In December 2020, Congress passed a 5,600-page spending bill totaling roughly $2.3 trillion. In addition to funding the federal government for nine months to the tune of $1.4 trillion, the bill featured a $900 billion economic stimulus and COVID-19 relief package. The House approved the package by a 359-53 margin, while the Senate passed it 92-6. Wisconsin’s congressional delegation was split along party lines, with Democratic members supporting the bill and Republican members voting against.
Congress’ COVID package provides a new round of direct payments to qualifying individuals ($600 per adult and $600 per dependent) and extends a variety of financial support programs from the first federal package (CARES Act) passed last spring. The new legislation continues the Federal Pandemic Unemployment program at $300 per week and extends other unemployment programs created by the CARES Act, all to be phased out beginning in March. The bill also set aside $284 billion to restart the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to help businesses keep furloughed workers on their payroll. Furthermore, the bill extends the federal eviction moratorium, funds additional rental and food assistance, and extends the spending deadline for CARES Act funds to the end of 2021.
While the bill does not feature direct aid to state and local governments, as the CARES Act did, it includes a variety of grants and aids for specific sectors and programs. Among these is a $10 billion appropriation to supplement the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. The Department of Children and Families (DCF), which administers CCDBG in Wisconsin, is expected to receive $148 million under the federal package. The $148 million are subject to passive review by the Joint Finance Committee prior to any expenditure.
In addition to $30 billion towards vaccine procurement and distribution, the package includes $55 billion for K-12 schools and $22 billion for higher education, as well as $14 billion in transit funding and $10 billion for state transportation departments impacted by a shortfall in gas tax revenue. It is not yet clear what portion of these funds will reach Wisconsin or how they will be distributed.
President-elect Biden Unveils His Own COVID Legislation
On Thursday, January 14, President-elect Joe Biden revealed the details of his proposed COVID response and economic stimulus legislation. Titled the “American Rescue Plan,” it would cost $1.9 trillion, including direct payments of $1,400 to most Americans, an increase and extension of federal unemployment benefits to $400 per week through September, and billions more towards COVID testing and vaccines as well as aid for state and local governments, K-12 schools, and institutions of higher education. It would also raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, extend the federal eviction and foreclosure moratoriums through September, and make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable for 2021 at $3,000 per child. The president-elect plans to propose a second spending initiative in February that will focus on climate change, infrastructure, job creation, and social justice issues.