Next stimulus package: HEALS Act benefits go even beyond another payment - CNET

Proposals under consideration in Washington could provide financial support during the pandemic. Angela Lang/C

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Proposals under consideration in Washington could provide financial support during the pandemic.

Angela Lang/CNET
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The next economic relief package will include another stimulus payment of up to $1,200, that much is all but certain. But a second direct payment for qualified Americans is just the beginning. The current proposals pinging around Washington include a number of measures that could affect millions of people -- whether they pass or not.

With Congress divided on a final deal, one of the main sticking points is enhanced unemployment assistance. The GOP-authored HEALS Act proposes slashing the $600 weekly benefit that expired on July 31 to just $200 per week and then later adjusting benefits to a percentage based on your previous salary. Democratic leaders find that reduction dangerously low and say it won't keep people afloat through the economic recession, which has seen tens of millions of people lose their jobs.

Below, we assess how likely an extension to enhanced unemployment and other major benefits could be as part of a final relief package. We update this story often.

Second stimulus check: Designed to spur spending

What it is: A payment sent to qualifying individuals and families, based on annual income, age, number of dependents and other factors. The first stimulus checks authorized under the CARES Act have gone out to over 160 million Americans -- as a check, a prepaid credit card or through direct deposit. But there are problems and after three months, some are still waiting for their stimulus payment.

How it could help you: The payment isn't taxable and you can use it however you want -- to pay for food, housing, clothing and so on. The idea is that spending the checks will help the economy recover faster.

Why we think a second check will pass: The CARES Act authorized payments of up to $1,200 per eligible adult and so does the HEALS Act. The House of Representatives' HEROES Act, meanwhile, called for $1,200 stimulus checks, but for more people. The White House supports another round of checks, which makes this a likely part of the final bill.

$100 bills

The HEALS Act proposes to give eligible Americans the same size stimulus check as was issued in March.

James Martin/CNET

More unemployment benefits for Americans out of work

What it is: An additional weekly check for people who applied for unemployment for the first time or were already collecting unemployment. The program initially granted by the CARES Act provided an extra $600 per week and expired on Saturday, but lawmakers are looking into another unemployment boost now.

How it could help you: An extra weekly payment on top of the ordinary unemployment benefit gives individuals and families a leg up. Cutting it off or reducing it could be devastating for unemployed workers and the economy.

Why we think it could happen: Republicans support the extension, but at a reduced rate. They say $600 a week is too generous. "We have learned what we knew at the time," Sen. Chuck Grassley said Monday, "That when you pay people more not to work than they would get working, what do you expect? People will not work. And what this country needs is more workers."

Democrats support an extension of the current $600 rate and have balked at the Senate proposal, which would extend benefits based on 70% to 75% of lost wages, starting at $200 a week and over time increasing to $500 a week, with state assistance. With no agreement on a larger second package close and benefits expiring, the two sides may decide on a short-term extension of the benefits while they hammer out the details of the bill.

Payroll Protection Program to help businesses keep people employed

What it is: Intended to help you retain your job, the Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans to small businesses as an incentive to keep employees on the payroll. 

How it could help you: The program is designed to fund employed workers who would otherwise have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The program got off to a rocky start and it's not clear the PPP met the goals Congress set for it. 

"Overall PPP hasn't preserved many paychecks," wrote Joshua Gotbaum, a guest scholar of economic studies at the Brookings Institution. "A careful study found that PPP-eligible small businesses laid people off just as quickly as other businesses," he said.

Why we think it could get extended: The Republican proposal will target the hardest-hit small businesses, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said during the rollout of the bill, including those with revenue losses of 50% or more over last year.


A tax credit would help with your pay.

Angela Lang/CNET

Employee retention tax credit would help pay workers

What it is: Under the program, an employer can receive refundable tax credits for wages paid to an employee during the pandemic. The employer can then use the credits to subtract from -- and even receive a refund over -- taxes they owe.

How it could help you: Again, it's not a direct payment to you, but the program encourages businesses to keep workers on the payroll.

Why we think it could happen: Grassley said the HEALS Act includes further tax relief for businesses that hire and rehire workers and the Democrat-backed HEROES Act also builds on the tax credits that were part of the initial CARES Act. And there's additional bipartisan support besides.

Now playing: Watch this: Stimulus Standoff on Capitol Hill


Return-to-work payment of up to $450 each week

What it is: A temporary weekly bonus for unemployed workers who secure a new job or are rehired, on top of their wages. As proposed by Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, the bonus would be $450 a week.

How it could help you: Under Portman's plan, the weekly bonus would go to laid-off workers who return to work.

Why we think it may not happen: The White House in May expressed interest in the bonus and Portman continues to support the idea, but it's not part of the proposal Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the other Senate Republicans presented on Monday.

Rental assistance to help keep people in their homes

What it is: This plan would help renters pay rent and assist landlords with expenses with less rent money coming in, especially as the US faces a potential "tsunami of evictions."

How it could help you: The rental assistance program would temporarily help you pay rent if you qualify, put a hold on evictions for a year and help cover costs of rental property owners because of rental payment shortfalls. The current protections have lapsed.

Why we think it could happen: House Democrats included an eviction moratorium in its proposed HEROES Act. It wasn't part of the Senate proposal, but President Donald Trump this week said eviction protections would be part of the package.


Payroll tax cuts may not make the cut in the next coronavirus relief bill, currently known as the CARES Act 2.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Payroll tax cut to give you more take-home pay

What it is: Trump has for months pushed the idea of including temporary payroll tax cuts in the next stimulus package. The proposal could include cutting both the employer and employee share of payroll taxes.

How it could help you: If you have a job, a payroll tax cut would let you keep more of your earnings each check. The plan would not help those who are unemployed and don't receive a paycheck. As of July 4, the nearly 32 million people who were claiming unemployment insurance would not benefit.

Why we don't think it'll happen: Neither the HEROES Act nor the current Senate plan includes a payroll tax cut. Even the president seems to have given up on the plan.

Until we know for sure what the finalized stimulus bill will bring, there are some resources to help you through the financial crisis, including coronavirus hardship loans and unemployment insurancewhat you can do if you've lost your jobwhat to know about evictions and late car payments; how to take control of your budget; and if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS.
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