NEW JERSEY— For months, members of Congress have dug in their heels, avoided concessions and failed to deliver a much-needed federal relief package aimed at helping cash-strapped Americans in New Jersey and others get through the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, it appears negotiators in Washington, D.C., could finally be nearing an agreement.
For much of this week, members of Congress worked through the last remaining holdups on a long-delayed $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package. At the center of the package would be billions in aid to small businesses, extended federal and state unemployment benefits, direct payments to Americans, and additional funds to renters and people needing food aid.
The package comes just as a new report confirms that nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since this summer, in part because emergency benefit programs expired. More Americans are filing for unemployment benefits, and the pace of hiring has slowed.
House leaders are eyeing Friday for a possible vote but negotiations could spill over into the weekend. Also Friday, a stopgap funding bill passed by Congress last week is set to expire. Congress must pass the new spending bill by midnight to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Should the coronavirus relief package pass both the House and Senate, here are five things it could do for people and businesses in New Jersey:
1) Send direct payments to people in New Jersey.
While initially not part of negotiations, direct payments were added to the package after negotiators failed to come to an agreement on aid for state and local governments. Striking that from the measure freed up $160 billion to be used for direct payments.
Currently, the package is expected to send one-time checks to millions of Americans below a certain income threshold. The amount will likely be between $600 and $700, The Washington Post reported.
Stimulus payments have received endorsements from President Donald Trump as well as progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who remains dissatisfied about the overall package, according to The Associated Press.
The CARES Act passed in March provided for $1,200 payments per adult and $500 per child.
Additionally, the package is expected to defer federal student loan payments until April 2021, a policy that could impact about 40 million student loan borrowers.
2) Extend federal unemployment benefits for people out of work.
If approved, the relief package would include a $300-per-week bonus federal jobless benefit in addition to the renewal of soon-to-expire state benefits.
The CARES Act passed in March gave $600 per week to people who were out of work, on top of their usual state unemployment check. When this funding lapsed at the end of July, Trump signed an executive action to pay a $300-per-week bonus. That money will run out Dec. 31.
The need for additional unemployment aid was underscored Thursday by the release of weekly unemployment numbers — nationwide, 885,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week, the highest weekly total since September.
The new proposed unemployment aid would cover jobless Americans until April 2021.
In New Jersey, just over 17,000 new applications for unemployment were received by The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development during the week after Thanksgiving — which is a 26 percent rise from the prior week. In total, roughly 1.8 million New Jersey workers have sought jobless benefits since mid-March.
3) Renew an eviction ban for renters.
The new proposal would protect renters from evictions through Jan. 31, 2021. It would do this by providing $25 billion to state and local governments to pay for rent and utilities.
The CARES Act initially put in place a nationwide ban on evictions for renters who were late on rent. Trump extended the ban, but that extension, too, is set to expire at the end of the year — affecting just under 500,000 New Jersey claimants.
An eviction moratorium under the CARES Act expired on July 24. Moratoriums issued by, , and the were extended through at least Dec. 31. Additionally, the CDC issued an eviction moratorium on Sept. 4 that imposed a nation-wide residential eviction moratorium through Dec. 31. The CDC’s eviction moratorium only prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent. Evictions for other reasons are not prohibited by the CDC eviction moratorium.
4) Provide aid to people in New Jersey who are hungry.
A report by Vox said the package will provide $13 billion to help fund a monthly 15 percent increase in individual SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, aid for children who received food support at school, and money for other programs including Meals on Wheels and WIC (Women, Infants and Children).
Demand for such aid has spiked dramatically during the pandemic, Vox reports, with food banks across the country facing overwhelming need in recent months.
Nationwide, Feeding America predicts that 39 weeks of historic joblessness and business failures due to the coronavirus pandemic will likely leave as many as 50 million people nationwide without enough to eat.
New Jersey is not exempt from the hunger crisis facing our country.
According to Feeding America, 8.7 percent, or roughly 775,000 of New Jerseyians are food insecure.
5) Extend Paycheck Protection Program funding for small businesses in New Jersey.
The new proposal would add $300 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers business owners' forgivable loans as a way to help cover employees’ wages instead of laying them off.
The Paycheck Protection Program is geared toward businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have seen a 30 percent or higher decrease in revenue in any quarter this year. A report by Fortune said almost 100,000 small businesses have already closed permanently during the pandemic.
In New Jersey, 155,851 businesses have received PPP funding. A total of more than $521 billion in loans from the program were distributed in New Jersey.