JOY TO THE WORLD
After months of stalled negotiations, Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. The legislation includes direct payments of up to $600 per adult, enhanced jobless benefits of $300 per week, an additional $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, $25 billion in rental assistance, an extension of the eviction moratorium, and $82 billion for schools and colleges. Let’s dive a little deeper into the package.
WE THREE KINGS
The Cares Act gave airlines $50 billion in funds for companies that kept workers employed through the summer. However, tens of thousands of workers were laid off when the program expired on Oct. 1. This relief package includes an additional $16 billion for the airline companies keeping workers employed. It can only be used towards wages, salaries, and benefits for employees until the end of March. The bill also includes funding for other transportation-related projects, including $10 billion for highways, $2 billion for intercity buses, and $2 billion for airports.
The Paycheck Protection Program will be extended with another $284 billion in forgivable loans. Some of the funding will be set aside for very small businesses and the PPP program will expand eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasters. Another $15 billion will be directed toward live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions, which have been forced to cut back or close operations due to the pandemic.
DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME?
K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are slated to receive $82 billion to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Approximately $54 billion will go to K-12 schools and will not be tied to schools’ re-opening for in-person learning. The money can be used for preparing schools for re-opening – personal protective equipment and fixing ventilation systems – providing computers and internet connections, teacher training, and summer school. However, the relief package did not extend the student loan forbearance, which paused federal student loan payments and interest, and borrowers can expect student loan repayments to resume after Jan. 31, 2021.
This relief package does not contain any state or local funding. The National Governors Association previously sent a letter to Congress asking for $500 billion in state and local assistance. President-elect Joe Biden has stressed that after he takes office on Jan. 20 he will immediately push for more aid for state and local governments. This package also doesn’t provide any liability protection for businesses against COVID-19 lawsuits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that he will “insist” that any COVID-19 relief next year include protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
A second round of stimulus checks will soon be coming to millions of Americans – as soon as early next week. The relief package allows for up to $600 per adult and $600 for each child under 17 years old. The stimulus bill also includes an extra $300 a week in unemployment aid through March 14, 2021. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers gig workers and self-employed workers, is also extended. We’ll keep you informed of any additional relief in the coming year.
A second coronavirus vaccine was approved last Friday as the US set yet another record for new coronavirus cases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized for emergency use a vaccine developed by Moderna and federal researchers. Moderna’s vaccine is 94% effective at preventing COVID-19 and is authorized in adults 18 and older. Approximately 6 million doses were distributed on Monday.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its COVID-19 guidance to address vaccinations. The EEOC recognized that employers can require employees to get vaccinated subject to two exceptions: 1) where the vaccination is contrary to the employee’s sincerely held religious belief; and 2) where the employee is unable to receive the vaccination due to a disability. If employers mandate vaccinations of their employees, any adverse reaction to the vaccine will most likely be covered under workers’ compensation.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Embedded in the federal omnibus bill is a new law that would punish streamers that pirate large amounts of copyrighted content. The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act focuses on commercial, for-profit streaming piracy services that make money from illegally streaming copyrighted material. This practice costs the US economy nearly $30 billion a year. Under the law, this type of illegal streaming would become a felony and a violator could be imprisoned up to 10 years for multiple offenses as well as fined.
We thank you for your readership and friendship! With the Holidays over the next week, this is our final edition of The Way for 2020. Please follow us on twitter at #GBTheWay for breaking news over the break. We will be back on January 6, 2021, for our sixth year of covering the intersection of governmental affairs and the risk and insurance industry. From all of us at The Way, here’s to all of you for a blessed holiday season and the happiest New Year.