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COVID-19 relief package: No stimulus checks but it would add a $300 boost to federal unemployment benefits

Congress is rushing to pass a proposed COVID-19 relief bill as millions of Americans face losing their jobless benefits at the end of the month.

Lawmakers in Washington have been deadlocked over another stimulus package for months. Last week, however, key lawmakers appeared to make concessions in hopes a bill could pass before both chambers leave for the holidays.

Leaders in the House and Senate have restarted discussions and say the best chance in passing any relief is by adding it to the annual spending bill. But that would have to happen quickly because the House is scheduled to leave town at the end of the week. 

A potential deal is coming down to the wire as 12 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. Eviction moratoriums for renters and protections for student borrowers are also set to expire, as well as a federal program for paid family leave.

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday circulated more details about their $908 billion stimulus compromise that they first floated last week, called the Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020.

It would provide temporary unemployment relief. But it lacked specific details on key issues that have held up a monthslong standoff in Washington, including Democrats demands for state and local government aid, along with liability protections for businesses sought by Republicans, according to a six-page framework of the proposal, which was obtained by USA TODAY. 

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pitched a separate $916 billion proposal to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that included noticeable differences. 

Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Mnuchin's proposal “progress,” but added that it "must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan Congressional talks that are underway." They rejected part of the White House's plan that included a reduction in funding for unemployment benefits from $180 billion to $40 billion, calling it "unacceptable."

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Mnuchin's proposal comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier Tuesday said he would be willing to leave out liability protections for businesses if Democrats hold off on their push for increased state and local funding. But top Democratic leaders rejected that approach.

McConnell proposed a separate, smaller $500 billion deal that focuses on helping businesses stay afloat while limiting their legal exposure to coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

With a Dec. 11 government shutdown deadline looming, Congress is likely to vote on a one-week stopgap measure this week to fund the federal government to give lawmakers more time to strike a deal on emergency stimulus legislation. On Wednesday, the House plans to vote on the short-term measure to keep the government running through Dec. 18. 

Here's what the potential stimulus bill means for you:

Image source. Getty Images,

Will you get another stimulus check? 

The bipartisan package left out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, as did McConnell’s proposal. Democrats, some Republicans and the Trump administration back another stimulus check.

Mnuchin didn’t mention stimulus checks in his statement Tuesday, but the proposal includes $600 direct payments for individuals, plus an additional $600 per child, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Bloomberg in an interview. That would be half the payment delivered by the March pandemic relief bill. It would include $1,200 for couples. But it wouldn't revive a supplemental $300 unemployment benefit.

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and others have said that they could oppose the measure if there are no stimulus checks. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, indicated that excluding the checks while assuring small-business aid and renters' assistance was the only way to reach agreement with Republicans who are putting firm limits on the bill's final price tag.

The White House is pushing Senate Republicans to include $600 stimulus checks in the next relief package, according to The Washington Post. 

On Sunday, lawmakers involved in the negotiations said the direct payments would have to wait until after Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. At that time, Biden will face a new Congress as vaccines are being distributed, with a narrowed Democratic majority in the House and a closely divided Senate potentially split 50-50 if Democrats are able to prevail in two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

Will it extend unemployment benefits? 

There are two critical unemployment programs that are set to expire on Dec. 26: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to self-employed, temporary workers and gig workers, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the typical 26 weeks that states provide to jobless workers. 

The bipartisan proposal would provide a federal unemployment benefit of $300 a week for 16 weeks, from the end of December to April, according to the framework. It didn’t offer specific dates. It would extend all pandemic unemployment programs set to expire at the end of the month by 16 weeks. It wouldn’t issue benefits retroactively.

That would be a lower amount than the $600 per week that jobless Americans had received under the CARES Act until late July. In August, President Donald Trump extended the bonus to $300 a week for roughly six weeks for most workers.

The White House's separate proposal didn’t contain any extra federal unemployment benefits, according to The Washington Post. It would extend PUA and PEUC, Bloomberg reported, though it’s unclear how long those programs would be extended under the plan. The stimulus checks would be in place of the $300-per-week temporary supplementary benefits included in the bipartisan proposal, Bloomberg said.

McConnell has suggested a three-month extension of benefits. In other words, his plan would extend PUA and PEUC until Jan. 31, and then phase out jobless aid over the following two months. 

What else is in the package? 

The bipartisan plan would allow small businesses to receive another loan from the Payroll Protection Program. It would also provide $10 billion to support child care providers and offer $25 billion in rental assistance to state and local governments. 

The proposal calls for an extension on student forbearance through April 2021. It also includes help with coronavirus testing and tracing and vaccine distribution.

The White House proposal, meanwhile, includes a renewal of aid for small businesses.

McConnell’s plan includes provisions for education, aid for small businesses and pandemic-related liability protections for businesses.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes; The Associated Press