Federal COVID-19 Relief Legislation Clears U.S. Senate and House

A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill – the third stimulus bill passed since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. last March – passed the U.S. Senate in a party-line vote over the weekend, and today passed in the U.S. House. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the relief plan on Friday, March 12th.

The “American Rescue Plan” includes up to $1,400 in stimulus checked for individual taxpayers making $75,000 or less; or joint filers making $160,000 or less. After a flurry of negotiations during a marathon 25-hour session –that for Democrats was focused on gaining the support of the caucus’s conservative member, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV – agreement was reached to extend $300 weekly unemployment compensation benefits to Americans who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic through September 6.  The legislation also includes an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

Other key elements of the Senate-passed bill include:

  • $350 billion for state and local governments
  • A multi-billion-dollar investment in COVID testing and contact tracing; increasing the size of the public health workforce and funding vaccine distribution and supply chains
  • An expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit for start-up companies and other businesses hit by the pandemic
  • A $10 billion infrastructure program to help local governments continue crucial capital projects
  • For education funding, the bill includes $1.25 billion for summer enrichment; $1.25 billion for after-school programs and $3 billion for education technology

Notably, a provision originally sought by the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats to include a $15 federal minimum wage rate in the legislation was abandoned. This development occurred after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the chamber could not pass the wage increase under the budget reconciliation process that allows for a simple majority vote.