- A number of critical COVID-19 economic relief programs will expire at the end of the year, threatening the stability of the US economy as the country enters an uncertain 2021.
- After the CARES Act passed in March, stimulus gridlock has largely ensued, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
- From eviction moratoriums to a resumption in student loan payments, a lot is on the line if lawmakers don’t reach an agreement on additional stimulus measures.
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A number of critical COVID-19 economic relief programs will expire at the end of the year, which could force millions off of unemployment insurance, push many small businesses to permanently close, and raise the specter of mass evictions. This could threaten the stability of the US economy as the country enters an uncertain 2021.
In March, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, easily passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support, providing a lifeline to recently laid-off employees and businesses that were forced to close due to COVID-related shutdowns.
However, this legislative comity quickly dissipated as the pandemic wore on. The $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, which followed the CARES Act, passed in the US House of Representatives in May, but was stymied in the Senate. While Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi championed the bill, GOP Senate Majority Mitch McConnell deemed it as too expensive.
Stimulus gridlock has largely ensued ever since, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin working with Pelosi and McConnell for months with little progress.
Pelosi wants a $2.2 trillion stimulus package, while McConnell has sought a $500 billion plan, but the leaders have not hashed out a compromise. Nor have their staffs worked together to forge any consensus on a potential bill. On November 19, Mnuchin expressed his desire to have $580 billion in unspent stimulus funds redirected to small businesses and to extend unemployment benefits. It is unclear if this will occur, however, as it requires Congressional approval.
“We need this money to go help small businesses that are still closed or hurt, no fault of their own,” Mnuchin said last week. “Or people who are gonna be on unemployment that’s running out.”
With President Donald Trump refusing to approve and coordinate transition efforts with President-elect Joe Biden, exacerbated by the continued stimulus-related legislative impasse, there is a huge potential for dire economic problems for Americans if program extensions are not made in the next few weeks.
These events have all happened while at least 250,000 American citizens have died of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a once-unthinkable statistic.
Here are some of the COVID-19 economic relief programs that will be impacted on or close to December 31:
Extended unemployment insurance
On December 31, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, will expire. This economic relief program extended traditional unemployment benefits from the standard 26 weeks to 39 weeks. Self-employed and gig economy workers can collect state unemployment benefits through December 31, but that will also expire under the CARES Act.
According to a study by the Century Foundation, roughly 12 million people will lose their unemployment benefits on December 26 if no Congressional action is taken to forge a compromise stimulus bill.
At the end of July, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC, expired, which provided a federally funded $600 weekly supplemental boost to state unemployment payments. This was a huge economic lifeline for millions of Americans. However, that program expired, largely due to Republican opposition over the payments being too generous, and it has not been extended.
With extended unemployment benefits on the line and millions looking for new jobs, many have fallen behind on rent and mortgage payments. By the end of the year, this could set off a wave of new evictions and homelessness, all during what could be some of the most difficult days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Census Household Pulse Survey, taken during late October and early November, presented an ominous message, with 32.9% of households indicating they were behind on rent or mortgage payments, and 25.9% of respondents expecting a loss in income over the next month. The data also showed that 12% of respondents revealed having food insecurity, meaning they were unable to provide enough healthy food for their household due to a lack of resources.
An analysis conducted by Stout revealed that roughly 6.4 million evictions could take effect at the beginning of the year.
Student loan forbearance
The pandemic-related student loan forbearance, which has allowed millions to redirect much-needed money to critical expenses, is expiring at the end of the year. The forbearance halted additional interest costs and penalties for millions of borrowers.
Ending the forbearance during a pandemic will force millions to begin making payments once again, which could potentially slow down any economic growth.
Biden is being urged by many to extend student loan protections once he takes office, and he has himself proposed $10,000 in debt relief as part of coronavirus-related aid.
Many Democrats are also urging the president-elect to take executive action on student loan debt once he’s in office, but it is unclear if he will do so. The prospect of a potential GOP-controlled Senate would make this proposition more likely, as Republicans have generally been firmly opposed to any sort of student loan debt cancelation.
State and local government aid for 2021
Municipal governments have struggled under the weight of economic losses, from leaner tax receipts to fewer riders on public transportation. According to The New York Times, the New York City subway may even have to reduce its service by 40% if it doesn’t receive some form of federal aid, with deep budget holes brought on by the massive ridership decline since March.
The coronavirus pandemic has deeply impacted funding for first-responders, teachers, firemen, and police officers, the very people who have been on the front lines.
State and local government funding has been a big sticking point during Congressional stimulus negotiations, with Pelosi favoring increased aid while McConnell has generally been in opposition. Without increased funding, many municipal workers could potentially be laid off by the end of the year.
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