Congressional leaders strike a long-awaited stimulus deal: $600 checks and $300 federal weekly unemployment benefits for Americans

Congressional leaders on Sunday struck a long-awaited deal on a $900 billion federal rescue package, clearing final policy hurdles and paving the way for passage in the House and Senate amid an especially dark stretch of the pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement from the Senate floor on Sunday afternoon.

"The four leaders of the Senate and House finalized an agreement," the Kentucky Republican said. "It will be another major rescue package for the American people."

Negotiations kicked off earlier this week in a series of back-to-back meetings between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, McConnell, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The group signaled it was making steady progress in the last few days.

Pelosi and Schumer released a statement announcing the breakthrough as well, saying "we are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people."

Congressional Democratic leaders announced the package contains, among other provisions:

  • $600 stimulus checks for adults, plus an extra $600 per child.
  • $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance for 11 weeks through March
  • $284 billion in extra small business aid through the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • $82 billion in funds for schools and universities.
  • $25 billion in emergency rental assistance along with an extension of the eviction moratorium.
  • $13 billion in funds for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
  • $10 billion to aid childcare providers and keep their doors open.

Congressional leaders are setting up a swift timetable. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, said the chamber would pass a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open an extra day, which the Senate is also expected to take up and approve. They're also attempting to authorize a $1.4 trillion spending bill to fund the government into next year.

It could lead to a rapid-fire series of votes in the House and Senate on Monday, only hours before the deadline for government funding expires at midnight. Lawmakers will have a very slim margin for error as they try to pass legislation and avert a government shutdown.

Senior Republicans and Democrats want to merge both pieces of legislation, meaning that lawmakers could have a limited amount of time to review a broad tax-and-spending package costing over $2 trillion. 

Other provisions of the relief package include a fresh wave of direct payments, though they are half the $1,200 amount that Congress and President Donald Trump approved in March under an economic aid package. A congressional summary obtained by Business Insider indicated that the income thresholds are the same as the first round of federal payments.

People earning up to $75,000 qualify to receive the full $600, plus an extra $600 for each child. Mixed-status households also now qualify after being excluded in March. Couples making $150,000 also receive the extra $600.

In addition, the rescue package will renew the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program for gig workers as well as another measure that provides federally-funded jobless aid for people who exhaust their state benefits. The federal unemployment benefits will lapse on March 14, and they are not retroactive.

"Anyone who thinks this bill is enough does not know what is going on in America"

The agreement comes as the economic recovery is showing signs of slowing down with no new federal aid in nine months. States are enacting new restrictions to suppress the rapid spread of the virus. There's been a steady uptick in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the past three weeks, and job growth is in danger of fizzling out. The economy has regained just over half of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April.

But virus cases and deaths are reaching new highs. The pandemic has continued devastating the lives of Americans, with many small businesses are on the brink of financial ruin. A new study from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame indicated 7.8 million people had fallen into poverty since late July.

Half of all small businesses in the country may have to close for good in the next year, according to a survey from the US Chamber of Commerce.

Congress is running up against the expiration of multiple federal benefit programs set up in the spring. Nearly 14 million people are threatened with the loss of all their unemployment assistance if some federal measures are not renewed, per Labor Department data. A moratorium on evictions also expires December 31.

Congressional Democrats made clear on Sunday this was not the last time they would press for more federal aid. In a press conference, Schumer said Democrats would prioritize additional relief spending after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

"Anyone who thinks this bill is enough does not know what is going on in America," Schumer said.