Congressional Update: Federal Relief Package Home Stretch; Infrastructure Next Up
On Saturday, the U.S. Senate final action on the Biden Administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID aid package which contains changes from the House-passed version. The House must still take a vote to agree with the changes, before it goes to President Biden for his signature.
The bill still contains major funding to plug holes in state and local government budgets created by the pandemic, much to the secret joy of Republicans in Pennsylvania.
Key provisions of the package include:
— Direct payments worth up to $1,400 per person.
— Extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs.
— Extension of the 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits through September, instead of allowing it to expire at the end of June.
— $880 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
— Extension of the employee retention tax credit through December 31, 2021.
— Extension of tax credits for employer-provided paid sick and family leave through September 30th.
— $4.5 billion for LIHEAP.
— $19.1 billion to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent and utility bills.
— Expansion of the child tax credit to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children under age 18.
— $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program.
— An additional $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program.
— $350 billion to state and local governments, as well as tribes and territories.
On the infrastructure front, President Biden spoke with bipartisan members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Biden Administration has made it clear that an infrastructure, highway, clean energy jobs package will be the President’s second major priority after passing the COVID-package.
While both parties see infrastructure as a key priority, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urged the Biden Administration to focus exclusively on bridges and roads and not clean energy initiatives.
A key question for lawmakers is how to pay for an infrastructure package.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (R-OR) believes that an infrastructure package should not go through budget reconciliation due to the restrictions on what types of projects and programs could be funded.
Importantly, Congress recently announced a plan to return to earmarks, formally known as congressionally directed spending.
Earmarks allow Members of Congress to direct funding to certain projects in their districts and can be used as carrots and sticks for securing votes on key pieces of legislation.
Chairman DeFazio is working with members of the Committee on an earmark process for the next surface transportation bill.