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What's in the Covid relief bill? Democrats and Republicans in Congress claim wins

The deal would send another round of relief checks, but both parties left out priorities and plan to try again next year.
Image: Lawmakers Continue Work On Coronavirus Relief Deal And Omnibus Spending Package
The Capitol dome as seen from the Russell Senate Office Building on Sunday.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — After more than seven months of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats in Congress finally passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, and both sides are claiming victory while blaming the other for the delays in getting additional relief to Americans.

Democrats came away with far less than the $3.3 trillion bill House Democrats passed in May, which included nearly $1 trillion in federal funding for state and local governments. The new bill, set to be voted on late Monday, won't include any funding for states, a top Democratic priority. It will also exclude the Republican priority of liability protection from Covid-19-related lawsuits for businesses.

Both parties touted wins in the legislation, part of a larger government funding bill, that play to their constituents.

Senate Democrats pointed to funding for underrepresented groups, like Native American and minority communities. House Republicans emphasized limits on benefits for undocumented immigrants and food stamp payments.

President Donald Trump, who at one point said he favored an even larger aid package, is expected to sign the bill, White House spokesman Ben Williamson said Monday.

While the bill would renew programs government assistance that had been scheduled to expire at the end of the year, Democrats maintain that the compromise legislation won't be enough, and they have vowed to embark on another round of aid when Congress returns in January.

President-elect Joe Biden called the bill an "important down payment," suggesting that he would propose another round of relief funding once he is in office.

Here's a breakdown of what's in the bill:

Expanded jobless benefits

The bill would revive the supplemental federal unemployment insurance benefit, giving an extra $300 a week to those receiving state unemployment benefits, a top priority for Democrats.

That's less than the $600 a week that Congress approved in March, which expired in July. Republicans had opposed the boosted unemployment checks, arguing that the generous payments were providing an incentive for people to avoid seeking work.

The bill would also extend a program for self-employed and gig economy workers that provides additional weeks of unemployment insurance, and it includes an extra benefit of $100 a week for some workers who are both self-employed and have salaried jobs. Farmers and ranchers who have been affected by the pandemic would also get $13 billion in assistance.

Democrats claimed victory for a $13 billion increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp program, while Republicans emphasized that the benefit increase would be limited to six months and wouldn't expand eligibility.

Direct payments, rental assistance

The federal government would distribute another round of direct payment checks, although this time the amount would be only $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000 per year, as well as a $600 payment for each dependent child, according to Democrats and Republicans.

That's half the amount in the CARES Act passed in March, which sent $1,200 checks to individuals and $2,400 for couples. But this time, Senate Democrats said Sunday, the bill will include a provision to expand the direct payments to "mixed-status households, importantly providing immigrant families across the country with access to this financial relief." The previous round was criticized when people married to legal immigrants were unable to get checks.

Republicans also claimed a win, saying they had ensured "safeguards to prohibit illegal aliens from receiving payment," according to a memo by House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

There would also be $25 billion in rental assistance to help pay for past-due rent, future rent payments and utility bills, as well as an extension of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium through Jan. 31, Democrats and Republicans said.

Support for small business

The bill includes $284 billion more for first- and second-time loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses. The program was widely used during the first round and has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

The bill would also expand the program to include nonprofits and local news organizations, and there is an additional $20 billion in grants for businesses in low-income communities.

The bill would also provide $15 billion for live entertainment venues, cultural institutions and independent movie theaters, Democrats said. Republicans applauded their efforts to ensure that churches and other faith-based organizations are eligible for the loans and that unions are excluded from getting any federal support.

In a win for Republicans, the spending bill again includes language that would prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose whether they contribute money to political causes, which Democrats have been pushing the SEC to do.

Covid-19 response

The bill would allocate $20 billion to buy additional vaccines and about $8 billion to distribute vaccines, Democrats and Republicans said. It would also send about $22 billion to the states for testing, tracing and mitigation programs.

More than $3 billion would go to the Strategic National Stockpile, which is responsible for building up the federal government's reserves of protective equipment and other supplies needed to respond to a pandemic.

Democrats said they also pushed to secure more funding for mental health services, support for health care providers and additional research into Covid-19. Republicans noted that the bill would specifically have $4 billion for substance abuse programs.

Schools, child care, museums

One of the biggest beneficiaries would be schools, which would get $82 billion, the majority of which would go to elementary and secondary schools. There would be $23 billion for colleges and universities.

The bill would also set aside $1.7 billion for historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and institutions that primarily serve minorities, Democrats said. An additional $10 billion would go to child care services to provide child care assistance to families and help child care providers pay for added costs, Republicans and Democrats said.

In a win for Democrats, the legislation would provide funding for a new museum focused on American Latinos as part of the Smithsonian.

Transit, broadband

The bill will also include some funding for the transportation industry, including $15 billion for airlines to pay their workers. That is expected to help some of the 32,000 U.S. airline workers who were furloughed in October after a six-month $25 billion bailout ran out at the end of September.

It also includes $14 billion for mass transit programs whose revenues have tumbled with ridership declines, $10 billion more for state highways and $1 billion for Amtrak, Democrats and Republicans said.

Remote-learning students' access to high-speed internet has been an issue during the pandemic, and the bill includes $7 billion in broadband funding. It would also provide $300 million for rural broadband and $250 million for telehealth.

Not directly related to the pandemic, the bill would also spend $2 billion "to replace foreign manufactured broadband equipment that poses national security threats," Scalise said in his memo to House Republicans.