On December 27, 2020, Congress passed a $900 billion COVID relief package, entitled, Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. It was passed a part of the larger $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the government’s 2021 budget which includes increased funding for many programs older adults rely on. While this COVID relief package is the 4th of its kind, it’s the first additional package since March 2020. It provides important limited financial relief ($600 checks to people with annual incomes under $75,000), funding for vaccines and other programs, yet it also falls short in critical areas, such as no additional funding for Medicaid, home and community based services (HCBS) or state and local government relief efforts.
Our partners at Justice in Aging (JiA) have provided a full summary of the COVID relief package benefits and shortfalls, what’s still urgently needed, and an overview of the increased funding for many older adult programs in the omnibus spending bill.
Below is a brief overview of some of the critical support the COVID relief package offers. Read JiA’s full summary for more details.
- Tax rebates/stimulus checks: Individuals with annual incomes under $75,000 (couples under $150,000) are eligible for the tax rebate/stimulus payment of $600 ($1,200/couple). Those with children will receive an additional $600 per child under 17. While undocumented immigrants remain ineligible for these payments, mixed households with those who qualify and those who don’t qualify due to immigration status are now eligible for these direct payments retroactive to the CARES Act. In addition, people living in institutionalized settings such as skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or prisons are eligible to receive these payments. NOTE: Stimulus payments will NOT affect eligibility for means-testing programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Also, as noted in JiA’s summary, “those who do not receive a first or second round stimulus payment, but are eligible, can claim the payment on their 2020 tax return. Read more here and here.” The IRS will send people’s payments to the same place they did for the first round of stimulus checks. Payments should be automatically paid by direct deposit for those who provided a bank account on their tax return. Checks will be mailed if there was no account provided.
- Unemployment insurance: As stated in the summary, “the law renews the federal increase to unemployment benefits that expired in July. The federal funding will provide an additional $300 a week for any worker eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation (UC) benefits through March 14, 2021 (previously, under the CARES Act the benefit was $600). The bill also extends through March 14th the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for expanded coverage to gig and contract workers and others in non-traditional employment and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program that provides additional weeks of federally-funded benefits to individuals who have exhausted their state benefits.”
- Emergency paid leave: Unfortunately under the new COVID relief, the provision from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that provided mandatory emergency paid leave and family medical leave due to COVID related reasons was not renewed. That protection/provision expired on December 31, 2020. Under the new package, employers can voluntarily offer paid leave through March 31, 2021.
- Housing assistance: The federal moratorium on evictions is extended through January 31, 2021. This is critical, as it buys time for many people and families on the verge of homelessness before the new Administration sets up more permanent solutions. The new relief also includes $25 billion in emergency rental assistance to help cover current and past rents, pay utilities and prevent shut off of essential services.
- Food assistance: All people receiving benefits from the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive a 15% increase in benefits through June 30, 2021. This amounts to ~$25-$30 of benefits a month. Unemployment benefits also will not be counted in SNAP eligibility determinations.
- Vaccines and testing: The relief package includes $69 billion for COVID-19 vaccines and distribution, testing and contact tracing efforts.
To read more details on the COVID relief package, the critical missing pieces, and the increased funding for multiple essential older adult programs in the omnibus bill, see JiA’s full summary here.