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House Expected To Pass $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK, over to Capitol Hill now, where President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill is one step closer to becoming reality. The House is set to vote on the bill later this week. Lawmakers are racing to pass it before unemployment benefits run out in mid-March.

Now, the bill approved today by the House Budget Committee includes increases to programs created at the beginning of the pandemic - things like a boost in unemployment payments, more money for small business loans. Democrats are also including some temporary programs that they say will help the people who have been hardest hit by this past year's economic downturn.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been diving deep in the details of this bill. She has resurfaced, and she joins us now.

Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So I want to start with some of the items that we have been talking about all along - stimulus checks, unemployment insurance. What exactly is in this version of the bill to address those programs?

SNELL: Yeah, those are really familiar programs at this point. And what the - what this new bill includes is $1,400 checks, added on top of the $600 checks from the end of last year. Democrats say that will reach the full $2,000, which is a figure that former President Trump adopted at the end of his term and then Democrats embraced, saying, well, sure, we'd love to do that.

KELLY: Yeah.

SNELL: This would phase out - the checks would phase out for individuals earning over $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000. And there are more checks for dependents - adults and kids. And the unemployment portion of it that you mentioned will go from $300 a week to $400 per week, and that would start in the middle of March and end at the end of August. It does create another unemployment cliff, though. It creates so much uncertainty for people who are collecting this unemployment. And it raises the question of how Democrats will address it in the summer. Lots of ideas are out there for how to do this, like one that would make federal unemployment automatic and dependent on local unemployment levels, but there's really not a lot of consensus on what to do once they get to the end of August.

KELLY: OK. Now, meanwhile, Democrats say one of the things they're trying to do right now is speed relief to those people who were hit hardest...

SNELL: Right.

KELLY: ...In the pandemic. They're pointing to women, to workers of color, people in service jobs and so forth. What specifically is in this bill for them?

SNELL: I think the most interesting change here, something that I'd been watching really closely, is a big change to the child tax credit. They're trying something entirely new. They're basically experimenting with basic income for families. The idea is to send parents $300 per month per child from July to the end of the year. And they'd be increasing the existing child tax credit. And then they're doing something that really is very different. They're making what's called - making it what's called advanceable and refundable, meaning it doesn't matter if you owe taxes. You can get the money. And you would be getting it on a monthly basis, which is also completely new. It's targeted at couples earning $150,000 or less and individuals earning $75,000 or less. There's also a more generous earned income tax credit for low-income workers without kids, more money for food security and some additional money for rent and utility assistance.

KELLY: OK. And then one more piece that we've been talking about - this $15 minimum wage.

SNELL: Yeah.

KELLY: Where does that stand?

SNELL: Well, it is in this bill, but it's not entirely guaranteed that it will make it past this bill, in part because Senate rules may mean that it just can't be included. They're using a complicated budget process to get this bill through, and that may mean the $15 minimum wage can't make it. But there are also big political divides among Democrats about whether or not they should be actually pursuing a $15 minimum wage. So we're going to be watching that pretty closely.

KELLY: All right, lots more for you to be diving deeply into there on Capitol Hill. That's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMAPEA'S "PLEASE CHILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.