Congress has repeatedly been criticized for taking too many vacations and leaving work unfinished, with the American public often left wondering what their elected officials are actually paid to do. However, that criticism does not hold true for the last month of 2020. During December, Congress came together to pass a massive $900 billion COVID relief bill which is desperately needed for an economy besieged by lockdowns and continued upheaval stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The bill was signed into law by President Trump on December 27.
Several important provisions were included in the massive relief bill. First, the widely utilized Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses was extended, with nearly $300 billion for new loans added into the program. The 2021 round of PPP funding is open to both new applicants and previous recipients, with a few conditions. The eligibility criteria for new applicants has been changed slightly from the first round, and the types of covered expenses have been expanded. Additionally, prior recipients of loans of less than $150,000 can now use a simplified application for loan forgiveness.
Second, a new round of individual stimulus checks will be distributed to eligible citizens. The bill includes direct payments of up to $600 for adults earning up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income, or $112,500 as head of household and $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly. Payments of $600 per child dependent have also been approved. For every $100 earned over the income thresholds, up to $87,000 for individuals and $174,000 for married couples filing jointly, payments are decreased by $5. For those eligible to receive the stimulus checks, the Treasury Department has indicated that they could begin distribution in early January.
At the request of President Trump, Congress is currently debating an increase in the direct payments from a maximum of $600 to $2,000. A bill to increase the payments has already passed through the House of Representatives. The Senate is likely to consider the provision as a part of a larger package combined with non-COVID measures. While many Senate Republicans have remained silent on the issue, the $2,000 checks have become a hot campaign issue in Georgia, where both Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue have voiced their support of the increased amount. The outcome of the Georgia runoff elections will determine which party controls the Senate in the 117th Congress.