HEALS Act stimulus bill: Senate GOP proposes $1,200 check and other benefits – CNET

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Proposals under consideration in Washington could provide financial support during the pandemic.
Angela Lang/CNET
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On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the HEALS Act, the Senate’s proposal for a new stimulus bill to help offset the financial and job losses wrought by an intensifying coronavirus pandemic. HEALS stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools.

The HEALS Act will include a second stimulus check worth up to $1,200 to help keep eligible Americans afloat as a recession continues to deepen. The legislation will extend enhanced unemployment assistance, though offering less money than the original CARES Act. It will also pledge $100 billion to school reopening.

“The check is there,” White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Sunday on CNN. “The reemployment bonus is there. The retention bonus is there. There will be breaks for small tax credits for small businesses and restaurants. That’s all going to be there.”

The Senate proposal, which McConnell didn’t describe in detail, is the first step toward solidifying the total economic package. Until a final decision is reached and signed into law, expect rounds of bipartisan negotiations to alter some of the terms. Lawmakers have until Lawmakers have until Aug. 7, the last day before another monthlong recess, to decide.

We’ve gathered some of the many ideas that politicians from both sides of the aisle have proposed beyond a second round of stimulus payments and assessed how likely they are to be considered in the legislative debate. We also take a look at how these ideas might affect you if they become part of the next coronavirus relief package. This story is frequently updated.

Now playing: Watch this: Second stimulus checks very likely

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Second stimulus check to assist individuals through the economic crisis

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 — either as a check, prepaid credit card or direct deposit. But not with a hitch, and after three months some are still waiting for their payment.

How it could help you: The payment is not 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 helps the economy recover faster.

Why we think we will get a second check: The CARES Act authorized payments up to $1,200 per person. Senate Republicans propose following that same payment model with the HEALS Act. House Democrats with their HEROES Act offer slightly different payment and eligibility guidelines. While other parts of the CARES Act might have been better targeted at those who needed the aid, the stimulus checks were popular, and with both parties and the White House supporting a second round, another check should be part of the final bill.

New enhanced unemployment benefits for jobless Americans

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. McConnell did not announce the specific details on Monday.

Why we think it could happen: Republicans have already supported an extension, though at a reduced rate, saying $600 a week is too generous. “We’re not going to pay people more money to stay at home than work,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday on CNBC.

But with new unemployment claims (PDF) exceeding $1 million each week for more than four months and 31.8 million people in total claiming benefits this month, the White House and Senate are planning to extend the benefit. The Senate proposal for extending the benefits “will be based on approximately 70% wage replacement,” Mnuchin said last week. But Republicans could push for weekly payments of $100 or $200, CNBC reported.

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

“Each dollar of unemployment insurance boosts economy-wide spending by $2,” said Lily Roberts, director of economic mobility at the Center for American Progress. “The Economic Policy Institute estimates that letting the $600 unemployment insurance extension expire would by itself lead to more job loss than happened in the recessions of the early 1990s or early 2000s.”

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The HEALS Act proposes to give eligible Americans the same size stimulus check as March.
James Martin/CNET

Payroll Protection Program to help businesses save existing jobs

What it is: Intended to help you keep 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: Not a stimulus check, the program is designed to keep workers employed who would otherwise have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The program got off to a rocky start and it’s not clear it 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 [PDF] found that PPP-eligible small businesses laid people off just as quickly as other businesses,” he said.

Why we think it could get extended: McConnell said it will be included in the HEALS Act. Previously, McConnell also said the new stimulus bill will include a second round of payroll protection, “with a special eye toward hard-hit businesses.” 

Employee retention tax credit to help pay wages

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: Kudlow indicated it’ll be part of the Senate proposal and we know from the Democrat-backed Heroes Act that there’s support for building on the tax credits that were part of the initial CARES Act. There’s additional bipartisan support besides.

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A tax credit would help with your pay.
Angela Lang/CNET

Return-to-work bonus of up to $450 a week

What it is: A temporary weekly bonus for unemployed workers who secure or resecure a job, 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 could happen: The White House in May expressed interest in the bonus and Portman continues to support the idea. Though it hasn’t been on the short list of proposals being mentioned in current negotiations, Kudlow did suggest it would be part of the CARES 2 proposal.

Rental assistance to help stave off evictions

What it is: About 5% of renters for April, May and June haven’t paid their full rent, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. 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.

Why we think it could happen: Kudlow mentioned that the Senate proposal will lengthen the eviction moratorium. However, these protections have now lapsed.

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

Payroll tax cut so workers receive bigger paychecks

What it is: President Donald 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 (PDF) 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 Trump seems to have given up on the plan.

“I would have preferred a payroll tax cut, on top of that check,” Kudlow said on Sunday. “But, be that as it may, politically it doesn’t work.”

Until we know for sure what the next 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; and how to take control of your budget.

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