O Say, Can You See?
Mar 3, 2021

LEAD STORY

The U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 219–212, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package this week. We’ve watched a number of iterations of the stimulus bill o’er the past several months.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the provisions of the House bill.  

 

THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN

The measure, H.R. 1319, entitled ”the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” would provide direct payments up to $1,400 per person to families earning less than $200,000 a year, and individuals earning less than $100,000 a year.  For those who are eligible, the new payments will supplement the $600 checks approved in December, bringing recipients to a total of $2,000 apiece.

 

TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING

Proponents of the bill are targeting passage by March 14, the date when a $300-per-week federal supplement to unemployment checks will expire. The American Rescue Plan Act moves the expiration date to Aug. 29, and increases the total number of weeks eligible for the supplement to 73 weeks per individual from 50 weeks.  The act also boosts the federal supplement to $400 per week.

 

GAVE PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT

The bill also provides employers an incentive to offer pay for family leave for individuals who are out sick, quarantining, or caring for an ill loved one or a child whose school is closed.  Unlike President Biden's original proposal, the House bill would not require employers to offer the sick and family leave benefit. But, it does continue to provide tax credits to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the benefit through Oct. 1. 

 

WHOSE BROAD STRIPES

The bill also includes broad provisions for relief in the public sector.  The measure features $350 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments, many of which have experienced a reduction in tax revenue as a result of the pandemic.  The House bill contains nearly $130 billion for K-12 schools, and $40 billion for colleges and universities. In addition, it calls for more than $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and support of the vaccine rollout, including funds for hospitals, public health agencies, and biomedical research.

 

BRIGHT STARS

The American Rescue Plan Act revisits provisions of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses. It allocates an additional $7.25 billion PPP forgivable loans. In addition, the bill provides for assistance grants in the amount of $15 billion for targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance payments, $25 billion for restaurants, bars, and other eligible providers of food and drink, and $1.25 billion for venue operators.

 

A PERILOUS FIGHT

One of the more contentious issues in the House bill relates to a phased approach to increasing the minimum wage up to $15 an hour by 2025. However, this part of the bill likely will not be considered by the upper chamber, following a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian. The minimum wage hike provisions were not considered part of the budget-reconciliation process, which would enable passage on a simple majority Senate vote. Although Vice President Kamala Harris could overrule the Senate parliamentarian, pundits don’t believe she will take that step.

 

BY DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to introduce the package to the floor as soon as today.  The bill’s introduction will begin the first of two floor debate periods, before giving way to a voting session.  We’re keeping watch, and we’ll still be there for the potential resolution by early Friday morning.

 

Marijuana

STATE ACTION

The Virginia Legislature approved adult-use marijuana legalization.  Not a single Republican lawmaker voted for the bill in either chamber. Virginia is the 16th U.S. state to pass an adult-use marijuana legalization law, though sales would not start until 2024. Only two other states, Illinois and Vermont, have passed legislation to legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana through the legislature.  All other states advancing this issue have used the ballot initiative process.

 

FEDERAL POLICY

A new federally-funded study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that legalizing marijuana for adult use is associated with an increase in workforce productivity and decrease in workplace injuries.  Researchers found declines in such filings “both in terms of the propensity to receive benefits and benefit amount” in states that have enacted the policy change.  They further identified “complementary declines in non-traumatic workplace injury rates and the incidence of work-limiting disabilities” in legal states.  In related federal news, Attorney General Nominee Merrick Garland spoke openly about his views on cannabis enforcement in the United States before the U.S. Senate at his confirmation hearings this past week.  In response to an inquiry from Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ), Judge Garland stated, “[w]e can focus our attention on violent crimes and other crimes…and not allocate our resources to something like marijuana possession. We can look at our charging policies and stop charging the highest possible offense with the highest possible sentence.”

 

Making Our Way Around the Country

LAW ENFORCEMENT

A divided Washington Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a longstanding law that made it a felony to unknowingly possess illegal drugs. A majority of the justices decided that a strict-liability standard is unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the “harsh penalties and stigma that come with a felony conviction violate due-process guarantees in instances where the individual’s possession of the drugs derived from unintentional or innocent, passive conduct.”  With the ruling, Washington joins 49 other states and the federal government on this policy.

 

THE COST OF CARBON

The Biden administration announced an increase to the social cost of carbon to about $51 per ton, a metric that affects a wide-variety of policies like EPA regulations and government spending. The value of carbon fell to as low as $1 under President Trump. The figure advanced by the White House is on par with estimates from the Obama-era, when it was $50 a ton.  The White House Council of Economic Advisers said the new figures would enable agencies to “immediately and more appropriately account for climate impacts in their decision-making while we continue the process of bringing the best, most up-to-date science and economics to the estimation of the social costs of greenhouse gases.”

 

MEAL BREAKS

The California Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, which addressed time-recording methods for meal periods.  The Court held that employers cannot engage in the practice of rounding time punches, or adjusting the hours that an employee has actually worked to the nearest preset time increment. The ruling went on to say, “an employer is liable for failing to provide meal periods, only if it does not provide an employee with the opportunity to take a compliant meal period.  The employer is not liable if the employee chooses to take a short or delayed meal period or no meal period at all and that employers are not required to police meal periods to make sure no work is performed.”

 

HOME OF THE BRAVE

Back to our main story.  On this day in 1931 President Herbert Hoover signed into law a measure naming “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States. The move came more than a century after Francis Scott Key penned the poem’s lyrics during the invasion of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.  And, since we are now inside 30 days until Opening Day, we can almost hear the home plate umpire calling “Play ball!”  Let’s play too!  Until next week, stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.

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