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No-stimulus / Yes-Jobless aid

Are you still wondering and waiting for your stimulus? I don’t see it coming in the near future. Stimulus checks are out, jobless aid is in.

Lawmakers have not yet released legislative text behind the plan, but a one-page summary provided by the group — titled the “COVID Emergency Relief Framework” — combines many of the central priorities of congressional leaders of each party, as well as those of President-elect Joe Biden.

The effort has been spearheaded by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Mark R. Warner (Va.) working alongside Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.), and Susan Collins (Maine). Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) have also been supportive of the effort. Congressional aides have for weeks been skeptical that the group’s work amounted to much more than a publicity stunt, but the push appeared to have newfound momentum Thursday, with numerous Senate Republicans indicating their support for the idea.

“We’ve got to do something,” King said in an interview. “It would be grossly irresponsible to go home from here and see people lined up at food banks. … This is an important step to get us through the next few months.”

Business aid. The spike in coronavirus cases and looming winter months have fueled fears about possible devastation for certain segments of the American economy. In particular, restaurants, hotels, airlines and bus companies, among other industries hit hard by the pandemic, have warned of mass layoffs and dire consequences in the coming months without federal assistance.

As a result, the most expensive item in the senators’ bipartisan plan is $288 billion in assistance for U.S. businesses, with lawmakers insisting that this pot of funding be primarily geared toward assisting small firms. As with most of the bipartisan “framework,” the specifics of how that funding would be apportioned remains largely unclear at the moment.AD

The centerpiece of the business aid program is expected to be another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which has already doled out hundreds of billions in forgivable small-business loans — often with significant controversy — to millions of American firms. This new funding would allow businesses that have already exhausted their PPP funding to apply for another round of payments. This time, firms applying for PPP funding will almost certainly be required to demonstrate substantial declines in revenue to qualify for assistance.

Part of the $288 billion would also likely be used for targeted help specifically for restaurants, which are expected to be slammed by the closure of outdoor dining in the coming winter months. It would also include another round of Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which offers smaller loan amounts than PPP.

Aid for jobless Americans. The second most expensive funding item in the bipartisan framework consists of $180 billion for unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.

Under the bipartisan plan, Americans on unemployment would receive $300 per week from the federal government on top of their existing state unemployment benefits, assuming those have not been exhausted. In March, Congress approved a federal unemployment benefit of $600 per week that expired at the end of July as negotiations between lawmakers collapsed. Trump unilaterally approved a $300 per week unemployment bonus in August, although most of that money in turn expired by October.

About 20.2 million Americans are currently receiving jobless aid, according to data released Thursday by the federal government, and may face long odds securing employment during the winter. Many economists say providing federal unemployment benefits is necessary to allow these families to continue to meet their basic needs and pay their bills, which in turn will help stave off a broader economic contraction.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as recently as September released legislation calling for the U.S. to provide $300 per week to jobless Americans. Earlier this week, however, McConnell circulated a proposal that would provide $0 in additional benefits to the unemployed, as conservatives have for months complained that unemployment benefits discourages jobless Americans from finding work. McConnell’s office declined to answer questions about the change in position, and it was unclear how or if the differences could be reconciled in a final agreement.

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