Congress Passes Urgently Needed COVID-19 Relief and Spending Bills, Billions Short and Months Late

Washington, D.C., December 22, 2020—As millions of Americans struggle to put food on the table and pay their rent, Congress has finally passed another coronavirus relief package as part of its end-of-the-year “omnibus” spending legislation. The bill follows months of inaction and paltry aid packages proposed by the White House and Republican Senate. With mounting economic hardship, economic relief is desperately needed.

“The latest relief deal is a critical —yet, far from sufficient—response to support the health and economic security of people with low incomes and communities of color during this unprecedented crisis. And it is long past time to get this urgent help to the American people,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

The relief package includes the following important provisions that respond to devastating harms, such as hunger and the risk of eviction, that families are already suffering and that will help many people weather the next few months as the pandemic continues to rage and the recession deepens:

  • The continuation of unemployment benefits and enhanced benefits at $300 per month.
  • A 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for six months and expanded access to SNAP benefits for students in postsecondary education.
  • Expansion of the Pandemic EBT program to provide nutrition assistance to families with young children and to ease access for school-aged children.
  • A new round of $600 per adult and child economic stimulus payments to help families meet their basic needs. This round includes many mixed-status immigrant families who were previously excluded from relief and retroactively allows them to receive the previous CARES stimulus payments.
  • $10 billion in child care funds to support providers who are struggling to stay afloat due to increased costs and reduced enrollment, a fraction of the long-term need. CLASP’s state-by-state estimates of the funds are available here.
  • An extension of the national eviction moratorium through the end of January and funding for emergency rental assistance.
  • Continuation of the employer tax credits for employers who voluntarily provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for caregiving related to COVID 19. However, Congress failed to extend the requirement that employers provide emergency paid leave to workers – risking both workers’ and their families’ wellbeing and public health.
  • A lookback provision that allows families to continue to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit—essential income supports for families with low incomes –based on their 2019 income so they do not receive a lesser credit if their earnings decreased.

Also included in the omnibus spending bill are crucial investments in postsecondary education that will support students with low incomes. Key among those is the restoration of eligibility for Pell Grants to people who are incarcerated. This is an important step, driven by directly impacted advocates, that will advance justice and support postsecondary educational opportunity for people impacted by the criminal justice system. The bill also improves and simplifies the FAFSA application which will expand eligibility for Pell Grants and allow more students to qualify for the maximum award.

Despite these important investments, the Act falls short in numerous key areas. The final agreement excludes funding for state and local government fiscal relief urgently needed to sustain public services during this health and economic crisis and avoid layoffs and deep cuts driven by shortfalls in state budgets. Failing to include state and local funding places both the economy and the wellbeing of individuals and families at risk.

While the Act retains employer tax credits for providing paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, Congress failed to extend provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March requiring paid leave for those facing caregiving needs related to COVID-19. These provisions expire at the end of the year even as the virus rages and school and child care facilities remain closed. As a result, workers across the country will be forced to choose between their health, their caregiving responsibilities, and their paychecks, if their employers do not voluntarily offer leave. Furthermore, during a time when the coronavirus continues to spread and prevents the economy from reopening, paid sick leave is one of the few policy interventions that has successfully prevented the spread of contagion.

The investments in this bill provide critical relief at an urgent and devastating time. But they do not respond to the scale of the economic crisis, let alone provide the foundation for a recovery.

“At a time when over 300,000 Americans have died, millions are out of work, and communities of color, young adults, and families with children have suffered devastating harm, Congress and the entering Biden administration must set to work immediately on a robust federal response to meet the remaining need and lay the foundation for an economic recovery that reaches everyone This response package must not be the last one,” said Olivia Golden.

“The new Congress and new Administration should arrive in Washington ready to pass legislation that makes far larger investments to address poverty and hunger; supports families and workers through expanded child care assistance and paid leave; restores an economy that is failing people with low incomes; creates jobs for those facing employment barriers, including youth and young adults; stabilizes state and local governments so they can deliver crucial health, education, and other services; and promotes the healing and resources needed for economically marginalized communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities.”