Factbox-What’s in the U.S. COVID-19 bill? Unemployment, $600 checks, ‘three martini lunch’ deduction

A handwritten hiring sign is posted outside a local drugstore in Solana Beach, California
FILE PHOTO: A handwritten hiring sign is posted outside a local drugstore in Solana Beach, California, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

December 21, 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. congressional leaders said on Sunday they had reached agreement on a $900 billion package to provide the first new aid in months to an economy hammered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with votes likely on Monday.

Here’s what is in the package, according to a summary released by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and interviews with several congressional aides who provided additional details:

Checks in the mail: The bill includes $166 billion in new direct payments of up to $600 per adult and child, for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000 a year. The bill expands direct payments to mixed-status households.

More unemployment benefits: An additional $300 per week for some unemployment recipients, with expanded coverage to the self employed, “gig” workers and others in nontraditional situations.

A U.S. Postal Service grant: Congress agrees to convert a $10 billion loan approved in March into direct funding for USPS without requiring repayment.

Payroll loans: $284 billion for government payroll loans, including expanded eligibility for nonprofits and newspaper and TV and radio broadcasters, $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions and $20 billion for targeted disaster grants

Back-to-school funding: $82 billion for colleges and schools, including for heating-and-cooling system upgrades to mitigate virus transmission and reopen classrooms, and $10 billion for childcare assistance. Includes $54.3 billion for K-12 schools and $22.7 billion for higher education

Childcare: $10 billion to provide childcare assistance to families and to help childcare providers cover costs related to pandemic safety.

Business meal write-offs. A new tax break for business meal expenses, nicknamed the “three martini” deduction.

Ending surprise medical billing: Insured patients only need to pay in-network costs when an emergency or other issue forces them to use a medical provider who isn’t covered by their network.

Transport industry help: $45 billion for transportation aid, including $15 billion to U.S. passenger airlines for payroll assistance, $14 billion for transit systems, $10 billion for state highway funding, $2 billion for airports, $1 billion for airline contractors and $1 billion for passenger railroad Amtrak.

Rent and eviction aid: $25 billion for rent and utility payment assistance for people struggling to stay in their homes, and an extension of the eviction moratorium until Jan. 31. States will receive a minimum of $200 million in assistance.

Vaccine distribution aid: $30 billion to support procurement and distribution of the vaccine, “ensuring it’s free and rapidly distributed to everyone,” as Schumer said.

More to fight hunger: $13 billion for food assistance, including additional funding for food banks and senior nutrition programs, college student access to the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Farm aid: Another $13 billion for direct payments, purchases and loans to farmers and ranchers.

Expanded Pell Grants: New grants for college tuition, which would reach 500,000 new recipients.

Internet access: $7 billion to give more Americans broadband internet access, including $1.9 billion to replace telecom network equipment that poses national security risks and $3.2 billion for a new temporary benefit program to help low-income Americans get access to broadband service

Global virus alliances: $4 billion for an international vaccine alliance

Tax credits: Enhanced tax credits to encourage low-income housing construction, businesses to keep employees on payroll, employers to provide paid sick leave, and for low income workers.

Minority-owned businesses: $12 billion for minority owned and very small businesses that struggled to access earlier Payroll Protection Program financing.

What’s not in the bill: Liability protection for companies whose employees get coronavirus, which Republicans have backed for months, was not including in the final negotiations or bill; Democrats laid aside sizable funds for state and local governments in return.

A last-minute attempt by the Republican Party to limit the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending power to small businesses and local governments was also left out.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, David Brunnstrom and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Heather Timmons, Richard Pullin)