The Coronavirus Response and Relief Appropriations Act
On December 21, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Appropriations Act as part of a mammoth, 5,600-page budgetary deal. It passed the House and Senate with an overwhelming margin, and was signed into law on December 27. This legislation is far from the comprehensive relief bill working people need, but it provides some necessary stop-gap funding.
Of particular importance for UE locals to note, if private-sector workplaces were granted paid sick and family leave by the Families First bill, then locals will need to take action to make sure it continues. The bill does extend the dollar-for-dollar employer payroll tax credit for provision of leave through March 31, 2021. However, continued implementation of said policies is now entirely voluntary on the part of employers.
While the mandate for paid sick and family leave was not extended, the extension of the payroll tax credit essentially makes paid sick and family leave cost-free for small businesses, which means there is no practical reason why employers should not extend these benefits.
In order to ensure that members in qualifying shops continue to be able to use emergency paid leave through the end of March, new memoranda of understanding which establish a continuation of 2020 emergency sick/family leave policies should be negotiated as soon as is feasible. Locals should contact their assigned staff representative for more information.
Other highlights of the legislation include:
- Expanded unemployment reinstated at a lower level but expires in March.
- Unemployed workers will receive $300 per week above whatever regular unemployment benefit a worker would have received.
- The CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) allows for various groups who did not qualify for regular unemployment (gig workers, independent contractors, those who had to quit work due to COVID, etc) to qualify.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PUAC) extends the amount of time workers can collect unemployment benefits to 50 weeks.
- A number of smaller unemployment expansions granted in either the CARES Act or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act are also temporarily extended, including federal funding for the first week of unemployment and extended unemployment and changes to railroad unemployment to match regular unemployment.
- These improved benefits expire March 14, 2021, although benefits for those already unemployed and collecting PUA or PUAC may continue until April 5, 2021.
- Direct aid to working families.
- The new bill contains a second round of direct payments to individuals, following a direct pressure campaign by many, including Senator Bernie Sanders. The amount of these payments is lower than the first round last year: the new round offers only $600 per adult or dependent child 16 or younger. The income qualifiers for this round of payments are essentially identical to the previous round, with individuals making less than $75,000 and families making less than $150,000 qualifying.
- Families of mixed immmigration status (where an undocumented immigrant and a U.S. citizen are together in a household) will now not only qualify for the second round of payments, they will also retroactively be eligible for the original CARES Act payments. Unfortunately children age 17 and adult dependents will still not qualify for any payment.
- Additional funding for smaller businesses and targeted industries may save some jobs. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is designed to provide effective cash grants to small businesses provided employers don't engage in layoffs, has been given another $284 billion in funding. Several other industries receive targeted funding in the bill, including: airlines; live venues, independent theaters, and museums; and daycares.
- Eviction moratorium extended, and money allocated for rental aid. The federal eviction moratorium is extended through January 31, 2021. Direct funding for rental aid is provided for the first time on the order of $25 billion, which will be distributed through the states. This money can be used for either rent or utility payments.
- No direct state/local government aid, but significant indirect aid. Due to strident Republican opposition there is no direct aid to state and local governments. However, somewhere in the range of $140-$150 billion should flow to state governments, local governments, and other public-sector agencies. This includes aid to K-12 public schools and higher education; COVID testing, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution; public transportation and state highways; and more.
- Expanded food assistance. $13 billion in additional SNAP funding which will allow an expansion of the program by 15% for six months.