Another dose of relief is finally on the way for the millions of Americans facing financial distress because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, congressional leaders in both parties announced an agreement to provide a round of $600 stimulus payments to most Americans and partly restore the enhanced federal unemployment benefit, offering $300 for 11 weeks. But the agreement is also expected to contain provisions related to student loans, rental assistance and medical bills.
The legislative package hasn’t been finalized, but combined with a few other recent relief measures, it would provide welcome, albeit temporary, assistance to many. How quickly the money reaches your pocket will depend on several factors, though.
Here’s a closer look at what the latest legislative package will mean for you. This article will be updated as more details from the measure become available.
Will I receive another stimulus payment?
Individual adults making up to $75,000 a year would receive a $600 payment, and a couple earning up to $150,000 a year would get twice that amount. If they have dependent children, they would also get $600 for each child.
Some people with incomes just above these levels may receive a partial payment, as they did earlier this year under the CARES Act. The full text of the bill is not yet available; we will update this article when we have it.
When might it arrive?
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday that he expected the first payments to go out before the end of the year. But it will be a while before all eligible people receive their money.
When stimulus checks were approved earlier this year under the CARES Act, it took about two weeks for payments to begin landing via direct deposit. But people who received their payments by another method often had to wait much longer.
Will it be direct-deposited, as it was last time?
For many recipients, yes. For the first round of stimulus, the government also issued payments via paper check and prepaid benefit cards.
What if I still haven’t received my previous stimulus payment or only got part of it?
You can claim what is known as a “recovery rebate credit” when you file your 2020 tax return. The Internal Revenue Service has a page on its website that explains the details.
What about older children whom I claim as dependents?
If they are 17 or older, they will not be eligible for a payment and you cannot collect one on their behalf.
What if I’m a citizen married to someone who is not and uses an Employer Identification Number instead of a Social Security Number?
In the spring, that usually meant that neither of you were eligible for payments. A Democratic summary of the bill said it would “expand these direct payments to mixed-status households.” We will update this answer with more detail once the full text of the bill is available.
What does the agreement do?
Lawmakers agreed to extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits, according to congressional aides.
It would also restart an extra federal benefit that is provided on top of the usual state benefit. But instead of $600 a week, it would be $300. That would last through March 14.
How does the extension work?
Everyone eligible for unemployment benefits would receive an extra 11 weeks. That includes people receiving state-level benefits as well as individuals receiving checks through the so-called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers the self-employed, gig workers, part-timers and others who are typically ineligible for regular unemployment benefits. Pandemic unemployment checks were scheduled to run out on Dec. 26.
Here’s how the extension would work in practice: Most states pay benefits for 26 weeks, though some offer less. After that, the CARES Act had extended benefits by 13 weeks. The latest package would tack on 11 more weeks, bringing the total extension to 24 weeks — for anyone receiving either state benefits or pandemic unemployment assistance.
(In periods of high unemployment, your state may also offer its own extended benefit program. Extended benefits usually last for half the length of the state’s standard benefit period, but may be longer in some places.)
What about the extra $300?
Everyone who qualifies for unemployment checks will also get an additional weekly payment of $300. The so-called federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefit will be paid for 11 weeks, starting at the end of December through March 14.
That’s less generous than the first package, which granted an extra $600 a week to all workers who qualified for state-level or equivalent benefits. That extra payment ran out in July, although President Trump later issued a memo making a further $300 available for about five weeks.
Will anything else change?
The bill also provides an additional federal benefit of $100 weekly to individuals who have earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income, but are disqualified from receiving a more generous Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefit because they are eligible for state unemployment benefits, according to a Senate aide.
This will help people, for example, in the film industry. Let’s say a person earned most of their income through larger freelance jobs from movies, but took lower-paying jobs at restaurants in between. These workers would qualify for lower, state-level benefits based on the restaurant work.
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Dec. 21, 2020, 2:36 p.m. ET
This $100 weekly payment would be on top of the $300 weekly federal benefit, and would also end on March 14. The benefit will begin only after your state reaches an agreement with the Labor Department.
How long will I have to wait for benefits?
If your benefits have already run out, experts said to check your state’s website for further instruction about whether you’ll be required to do anything to receive the extra 11 weeks of aid. The states will probably reinstate them automatically, but expect to wait at least a few weeks.
“You may have to wait through part of January to get access to benefits that stopped at the end of December,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for social insurance at the National Employment Law Project. “If Congress passes relief, it has historically been structured so that your benefits are restored beginning the date of enactment. So there shouldn’t be a gap in your eligibility if that happens, just a gap in when you get paid.”
Housing and Bills
I am behind on my rent or expect to be soon. Will I receive any relief?
The agreement would provide $25 billion to be distributed through state and local governments to help renters who have fallen behind. But exactly how it will work remains to be seen.
Diane Yentel, chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said that more than 500 emergency programs have been created during the pandemic, and that many of them would use their share of the money to replenish their funding. The advocacy group maintains a map and database of such programs on its website.
What about rental evictions?
The agreement would extend a moratorium on renter evictions through Jan. 31.
The Trump administration, through an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had already extended a previous eviction ban through the end of the year. The agency said the moratorium was needed to prevent renters from ending up in shelters or other crowded living conditions, which would put them at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The new agreement simply extends that order. To be eligible, renters must have experienced a “substantial” loss of household income, a layoff or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses, among several other conditions — and they can’t expect to earn more than $99,000 in 2020 (or $198,000 for married people filing their tax returns jointly).
Student Loans and Higher Education
Are there any changes to the federal student loan forbearance program?
The pause on payments had already been extended to Jan. 31 by the Department of Education. The legislation may push that date further into the future once the language is finalized.
Are there any changes in interest rate policies?
Yes, according to a summary provided by Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. The federal government makes the interest payments for students who qualify for subsidized loans while they are in school, but it cuts them off if it takes too long for them to finish. Now, there would be no time limit.
What about changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?
It should be a lot simpler, soon.
Mr. Alexander, who is retiring, has long sought to reduce the number of questions on the notoriously complicated form, which students must fill out in order to qualify for aid including federal loans and Pell Grants for low-income students.
The new FAFSA, which as many as 20 million people fill out each year, would lose two-thirds of its questions, going from 108 to no more than 36.
Did Pell Grants get more generous?
Yes. After years of efforts by advocacy groups and some senators, prisoners would again be eligible to use them for higher education.
Overall eligibility rules will get simpler, too, which means more people would qualify — and qualify for the maximum grant.
Other Forms of Help
What happened with surprise medical bills?
The agreement would make these kinds of medical bills illegal. These bills typically surface after an out-of-network provider is unexpectedly involved in a patient’s care — think emergency room physicians, anesthesiologists and ambulances.
Patients might go to a hospital that accepts their insurance, for example, but get treated there by an emergency room physician who doesn’t. Such doctors often bill those patients for large fees, far higher than what health plans typically pay.
Under the new law, instead of charging patients, health providers will now have to work with insurers to settle on a fair price. The new changes will take effect in 2022, and will apply to doctors, hospitals and air ambulances, though not ground ambulances.
What about taxes?
There’s a change to the earned-income tax credit.
For the tax return you file for 2020, you would be able to use the money you earned from 2019 for qualification purposes instead of 2020, both for the earned-income tax credit and the refundable portion of the child tax credit, according a Democratic summary of the bill.
That could allow additional people to maintain eligibility who might have lost it because they lost their job or worked fewer hours this year.
Catch Me Up on Everything Else
The relief agreement isn’t the only way the government has been trying to offer help. Other relief measures are still in effect and some have already been extended.
MORTGAGE FORBEARANCE If you’re struggling to make your payments, you may qualify for a forbearance, which allows homeowners to temporarily pause or reduce payments for up to 180 days (after that, homeowners can ask for an additional 180 days). These rules, which apply to federally backed mortgages, are still in effect as part of the CARES Act relief package passed in March.
But the rules vary a bit, depending on the type of mortgage you have.
If your loan is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored entities, there is no precise end date to the policy — regulators will wind it down when they deem it appropriate. But homeowners with loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration must contact their servicer and request an initial Covid-19 forbearance on or before Feb. 28. That had been set to expire on Dec. 31 but was extended on Monday.
Any skipped payments aren’t forgiven and must eventually be paid back. But if borrowers cannot make the extra payments right away, they may be eligible to push back what they owe until the home is sold, refinanced or when the loan term is up.
The situation is murkier for borrowers with private mortgages. They aren’t covered by the same protections, though some providers have extended similar relief.
FORECLOSURE PROTECTION Single-family homeowners with loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac would be protected from foreclosure through at least Jan. 31, 2021, regulators said this month. The moratorium had been scheduled to expire at the end of December.
People living in properties that either Fannie or Freddie has taken over because the owner couldn’t pay the mortgage are also protected — the moratorium on evictions has been extended as well.
The Federal Housing Administration, which often insures loans to borrowers who make smaller down payments, said on Monday that it would extend its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through Feb. 28. It had been set to expire on Dec. 31.