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Next stimulus package still happening? The 10 most important issues that might appear in the new bill – CNET

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If Congress does pass another stimulus bill, here’s what you could get in addition to another direct payment.

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A second stimulus check worth up to $1,200 for qualified Americans has support from Congress and the White House as part of a new economic rescue package, but that won’t be all another proposal would contain. If negotiators can agree on a final bill, it could include far more benefits to help people weather the current recession

However, lawmakers are still trillions of dollars apart when it comes to compromising on how much the bill would cost and what it contains, including money for school reopenings, reinstating some form of the extra unemployment benefits and money for the US Postal Service.

Talks could resume as soon as next week, after the Senate returns from recess on Sept. 8 or — in an extreme scenario — even remain on hold until after the Nov. 3 presidential election. It’s also possible certain topics could spin off into standalone bills. Whatever happens, we take you through the 10 key issues that could be part of a coronavirus rescue package and how likely they are to become part of the new legislation. This story updates frequently.

Additional funding for the US Postal Service

What it is: Ensuring the US Postal Service can handle the surge in mail-in ballots this fall is considered critical, as Americans vote during the pandemic. The Democratic-backed Heroes Act, which passed the House in May, allocated $25 billion (PDF) to replacing “revenue forgone due to coronavirus.” Under the Republican-backed HEALS Act, there’s no additional funding for the USPS. So far, President Donald Trump has opposed funding for the USPS. The House passed a separate USPS funding package on Aug. 22.

How it could help you: The money is intended to “continue meeting delivery standards during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic,” which, in addition to meeting the needs of people in quarantine, could be even more important as efforts to prepare for more widespread mail-in voting grow ahead of the election. 

Why it’s up in the air: At this point, both sides seem to be using funding as a bargaining chip for the larger stimulus package. And now, the question is tied up in the broader controversy of changes to the Postal Service.

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

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Expanded unemployment benefits for those 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 CARES Act provided an extra $600 per week, but that benefit officially expired on July 31. Lawmakers from both sides have said they want to renew this.

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.

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What Trump’s memorandum brings: The president issued an executive action on Aug. 8 seeking to create a program to provide $400 per week, with a (retroactive) start date of Aug. 1, and calls for it to end when the program reaches “$25 billion or for weeks of unemployment ending not later than Dec. 6, 2020, whichever occurs first.” The plan requires states picking up some of the cost, but some governors say the plan doesn’t go far enough. There’s also a question as to how many people it can realistically cover given the $25 billion limit, and the fact that an act of Congress typically is required to authorize this type of spending.

Where negotiations stood before: Republicans support the extension, but at a reduced rate. Democrats support a resumption of the now-expired $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. The benefits expired without a short-term extension in place.

A second stimulus check to encourage 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 payment authorized under the CARES Act has been sent to over 160 million Americans — as a check, as a prepaid credit card or via direct deposit. But there have been 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 payment will pass: The CARES Act authorized payments of up to $1,200 per eligible adult and so does the $1 trillion HEALS Act. The House of Representatives’ $3 trillion Heroes Act also called for $1,200 stimulus payments, but for more people. The White House supports another round of checks, which makes it likely that sending out payments will be part of the final bill.

Funding to help schools safely reopen

What it is: While the earlier CARES Act didn’t address school reopenings, both HEALS and Heroes do. Under the Heroes Act, there would be $58 billion for grades K-12 and $42 billion for higher education. The HEALS Act called for $70 billion to go to K-12 schools that open for in-person classes, $29 billion for higher education, $1 billion to the Bureau of Indian Education and $5 billion at states’ discretion.

How it could help you: More money for schools could mean more resources for adapting schools and teaching to the pandemic. 

Why we think it will pass: Both sides seem to want funding, but whether it gets tied up in details around in-person learning or anything else remains to be seen. 

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A tax credit could encourage employers to retain employees.

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Liability protection for coronavirus-related lawsuits

What it is: Under the HEALS Act, employers, schools and health care providers would be protected by a limit on lawsuits dealing with the exposure to the coronavirus, with the exception of gross negligence, for example. 

How it could help you: If you’re in that category of employers, health care providers or schools, this could help keep you out of court. 

Why it’s in the air: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the protections are a must-have. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to think so.

Payroll Protection Program designed to help businesses retain employees

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 PPP is intended to encourage businesses to keep employing 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. 

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. That includes those with revenue losses of 50% or more over last year. 

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Incentives to retain jobs is one potential element of a new stimulus bill.

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Employee retention tax credit could help companies 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 for — taxes they owe.

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

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

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 McConnell and other Republican senators presented.

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Every eviction protection has lapsed on a federal level.

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The eviction moratorium and where it stands now

What it is: There have been two proposed parts, at one point or another. The first is to stop landlords from evicting tenants, which was part of the now-expired CARES Act. The other is a plan to help renters pay rent and assist landlords with their mortgage and other expenses in light of reduced rent money coming in. The US faces a potential eviction and housing crisis that could cause up to 40 million people to lose their homes. That’s about 12% of the US population.

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

Where it stands now: Trump’s executive order regarding evictions doesn’t actually keep evictions from happening. There are currently no federal eviction protections, though some states may have some.

“The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development shall take action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to promote the ability of renters and homeowners to avoid eviction or foreclosure resulting from financial hardships caused by COVID-19,” the executive order reads.

Eviction protection wasn’t part of the Senate proposal, but has been a topic Trump has pushed for inclusion. As with unemployment insurance, Congress had initially looked to extend this separately while it worked on the final bill.

What’s happening with Trump’s payroll tax cut?

What it is: Trump has for months pushed the idea of including temporary payroll tax cuts in the next stimulus package. Another directive he signed earlier this month includes deferring certain taxes retroactively from Aug. 1, through December for people earning less than $100,000.

How it could help you: If you have a job, a payroll tax cut would let you keep more of your earnings from each paycheck for now. The plan would not help those who are unemployed and don’t receive a paycheck. Workers and employers would still need to pay those taxes the following year.

Will it stick? Trump signed a memorandum Aug. 8 to enact the payroll tax cut, but it isn’t clear if he has the legal right to do so. Typically, financial decisions like tax cuts are authorized by congressional vote, not a presidential order. We’ll have to wait and see if legal action is brought against the order. Neither the proposed Heroes Act nor the Senate plan includes a payroll tax cut. US Industry trade groups say the tax cuts may be “unworkable.”

Until we know for sure what the final stimulus bill will bring, there are some resources to help you through the financial crisis. We look at 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.

Julie Snyder contributed to this story.

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