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A skinnier stimulus bill sooner? What's going on with the COVID relief package today

"Phillipp Taormina" (2020-08-20)

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There's an inkling that the stimulus bill could still be salvaged.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To break the deadlock on stalled talks over the next economic stimulus package, a group of Senate Republicans and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are each offering different approaches to get a deal done now instead of having talks drag on. Senate Republicans plan to soon introduce a "skinny" coronavirus stimulus package that could include $10 billion aimed at addressing the US Post Office budget crisis and $300 in weekly unemployment benefits that may be similar to an executive action signed by President Donald Trump, Politico reported Monday. Pelosi said she'd be willing to break out some funding now and pick up the rest in the new year, Bloomberg reported.

The ability of the USPS to function during the upcoming presidential election, and concerns over its capacity to handle a surge of mail-in ballots, has pulled the debate over America's new stimulus relief bill in a new direction.

On Sunday, Pelosi said she will cut the House of Representatives' break short, with a vote on standalone legislation that would stop changes seen to damage the US Postal Service. It's still uncertain, however, if and when a vote could come on the overall stimulus package, one that could include a second stimulus check.

Legislation around the US Postal Service is expected to come Saturday, after the Democratic National Convention, which began Monday, Aug. 17 and runs through Thursday, Aug. 20. 

Whenever the stimulus relief negotiations resume, it's clear that both parties are trying to pass a full bill, even though they're at odds on what that means. Here are five reasons we still think a stimulus bill of some sort will happen. We update this story frequently as the news develops.

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Both sides want to restart stalled negotiations

If all the name-calling and finger-pointing this month have revealed anything, it's that both Democrats and Republicans recognize the need for another emergency relief package to help the US cope with coronavirus testing, reopening schools, a looming eviction crisis and the upcoming election, among other things.

Despite signing four executive actions earlier this month, President Donald Trump tweeted support for a bill Aug. 14 (while also bashing Democrats), with school reopening on his personal agenda.

I am ready to send $105B to the states to help open schools safely with additional PPE. DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2020

"We can't wait until Sept. 30," Pelosi said Aug. 13 about the passage of the stimulus bill. "People will die."

When could the stimulus bill pass?

House votes

Senate votes

President signs

Possible timeline if legislation passes in September

Sept. 8

Sept. 9

Sept. 10

Sept. 14

Sept. 15

Sept. 16

Sept. 16

Sept. 17

Sept. 18

Sept. 21

Sept. 22

Sept. 23

Trump's executive actions don't cover many areasSo far, the president's directives (one executive order and three memoranda) cover a $400-maximum unemployment benefit, examine eviction protections, deferral of student loan payments and a payroll tax cut.  Trump's executive actions skip over areas that have been considered in a bipartisan stimulus package, including:  Testing, tracing and treatment of COVID-19Support schools reopening and provide PPE (personal protective equipment) Food assistance Aid for local and state governmentsProtection for liability from coronavirus lawsuitsMoney to keep post offices open for electionsOn the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said repeatedly that liability protection for businesses and schools must also be part of an agreement, which the orders didn't touch.

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Stimulus Check Standoff


Executive orders could take weeks before going into effect
Trump's memorandum suggested a $400-maximum unemployment benefit, of which federal funds would only cover $300 and states are expected to chip in the remaining $100. Governors of cash-strapped states struggling with the coronavirus pandemic are already pushing back. Earlier in August, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the benefits order "laughable." California Gov. Gavin Newsom estimated that matching the proposed unemployment benefits would cost California around $700 million per week, which would require deep program cuts.White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said federal help will only take about "two weeks," but labor experts have said that Americans could be waiting upward of a month before seeing a check.  In addition, the new program will only be available to people who can certify that they're unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, and only if they already qualify for at least $100 a week in unemployment benefits. The policy excludes about 1 million people. The methods by which Trump wants to fund his orders could cause more delays. The president is unilaterally seeking to use leftover or unspent FEMA funds -- ahead of what experts say will be an active hurricane season -- to pay unemployment benefits. pennies-on-the-dollar-small-change-stimulus-check-cash-money-004The end of all talks would be devastating to millions of Americans.
Sarah Tew/CNET
In addition, if Trump's orders are challenged in court, legal action could further delay relief aid to Americans. Because the Constitution gives Congress control over federal spending, the president may not have the legal authority to issue binding executive orders about how money should be spent during the pandemic. On top of the wait time to get federal unemployment benefits, the funding could also run out in about a month and a half, according to labor department officials.  Executive orders might be a dead end In addition to lacking a definitive stance on relief aid, as well as measures for testing, tracing and treating the coronavirus, the orders signed by Trump don't officially renew a moratorium on evictions. Instead, they leave the decision to address evictions in the hands of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield. There's also no official direction about providing financial assistance to renters, leaving that up to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The memorandum regarding student loan deferral only extends previous deadlines. And as for payroll tax cuts, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the directives could leave individuals and Accidents businesses with a larger bill to pay in a few months. poor-small-change-pennies-on-the-dollar-money-cash-stimulus-payments-personal-finance-014Democrats and Republicans have been disagreeing on how much relief aid should be included in the stimulus package. 
Sarah Tew/CNET
Politicians will want a win heading into the November election The election season is well underway, and November is quickly approaching. As such, 470 seats in the US Congress -- 35 Senate seats and all 435 House seats -- are up for election.  Trump, McConnell and Pelosi are all looking to be reelected this fall. And incumbents are aware that their constituents are watching their every move in regard to the stimulus package negotiations. It's also possible that the topic of a relief package could come up during town halls or debates held during the election season.  With first-time jobless claims totaled 963,000 two weeks ago, dipping only marginally below 1 million claims for the first time since March, and a housing crisis looming ever closer, obstinately waiting for the other side to cave can only be seen as a valid strategy for so long. Votes are on the line, and pushing through a working stimulus package could help ensure another term in office.  For more information, we've looked at how soon you might get your second stimulus check and compared the HEALS, CARES and Heroes stimulus proposals.




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