“The unemployment insurance system has never been so ill-prepared to handle a recession as it was in 2020,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. “We entered the pandemic unusually ill-equipped to handle it. What policymakers to some extent understood immediately is they had to take unprecedented measures.”
But key parts of those measures are set to expire next week, with an additional series of protections running out Dec. 31. Leaders on the Hill worked into the weekend on a package that includes a new round of stimulus checks and an extension of the national eviction moratorium.
“More help is on the way. Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and House finalized an agreement. It would be another major rescue package for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday. “As our citizens continue battling this coronavirus pandemic this holiday season, they will not be fighting alone.”
Any snag in the negotiations could have had serious consequences. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted recently that of the 20 million Americans now receiving unemployment insurance benefits, two-thirds are getting money from programs set to expire. The Century Foundation estimated 12 million Americans could lose their benefits without a new deal — seriously impacting workers’ abilities to obtain future employment.
“Across the board, we know that people who lose benefits, they cut their grocery spending 10 to 15 percent, or they cut their spending on medicine,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “We know they are cutting to the bone, and people are forced to make decisions that make it harder to get a job later. Many people I talk to are forced to sell their cars or move back with their parents in a city where they don’t know anyone. We know that’s going to happen.”
Here are some of the major programs that were set to expire this month both nationally and in the DMV area, and how the new $900 billion package addresses those programs.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation: When the Cares Act was passed on March 27, the major headline-grabber was the $600 supplement payment for those receiving state unemployment insurance. That program, however, dried up on July 31. The remaining program — the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — provided an additional 13 weeks of benefits after a worker had exhausted his or her state benefits. The program provided the same amount recipients received from their state payments.
These payments, however, will stop on Dec. 26.
On Sunday, as leaders in Congress announced the details of a new $900 billion relief bill, The Washington Post reported that the new deal included stimulus checks of $600 per person for Americans earning less than $75,000 in 2019. The stimulus checks will be less for Americans making more than that number, up to $99,000.
The deal also includes $300 per week for workers who have exhausted state benefits or 11 weeks of unemployment through March 14.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: Another key aspect of the Cares Act was the pandemic unemployment assistance program, which targeted payments to part-time and gig workers who did not qualify for state unemployment insurance benefits but were still knocked from their jobs by the pandemic. The program was for 39 weeks of benefits (in some states for 49 weeks).
These payments also will stop on Dec. 26.
Under the new $900 billion deal worked out on Sunday, PUA benefits would be extended for 11 weeks. But the new legislation also requires applicants to provide documentation proving employment or self-employment within 21 days of applying for the benefits. Those extending their benefits before Jan. 31 have 90 days to submit the documentation.
Eviction moratorium: A U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey from November reported that 12.4 million renters reported that they were behind on their rent. Earlier predictions from the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program and the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project estimated that as many as 40 million Americans could be at risk for eviction because of the pandemic. To keep people in their homes, in September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order halting evictions in failure-to-pay eviction cases for tenants making less than $99,000 annually, or $198,000 for couples.
The protections were not automatic. Rather, renters had to sign a CDC affidavit and submit the declaration before a judge. Thousands of evictions continued due to loopholes in the order and the flexibility the order allowed local judges. But the moratorium is scheduled to lift on Dec. 31.
On top of the CDC moratorium, many local and state governments have enacted their own eviction protections. Despite a recent court decision overturning D.C.’s eviction filing moratorium, the city has still outlawed any eviction removals until after the city’s state of emergency is lifted. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Friday extended the state of emergency until March 31.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a revised budget in November that included a provision banning evictions in failure-to-pay rent cases and requiring landlords to provide written information to tenants about rent relief programs. However, beginning on Jan. 1, landlords can begin to move forward with eviction if a tenant is rejected by the relief program, the program is out of money or the program takes longer than 45 days to make a payment.
Maryland’s courts began Phase 2 of a scheduled reopening on Nov. 30. Under the current law, no new failure-to-pay rent eviction cases can be heard until the courts enter Phase 3 on Jan. 15. Other types of eviction cases continue.
As part of the $900 billion stimulus bill, The Post reports two sources have confirmed the national eviction moratorium will be extended through January. The deal also offers tenants $25 billion in rental assistance.
Coronavirus Relief Fund: The Cares Act set aside $150 billion for each state to handle the costs related to fighting the pandemic and bolsters local and state programs to mitigate the economic hurt. This pile of funding — each state received at least $1.25 billion — could go to rental assistance programs as well as coronavirus testing, the purchase of personal protective equipment or business aid.
The grab bag of funding, however, must be allocated by local and state governments by Dec. 30. If the money isn’t allocated by then, the governments lose access. Jurisdictions around the country, including in Pennsylvania and Georgia, have voiced support for an extension of the allocation deadline to properly use all the offered funding.
The new relief bill would extend the deadlines for local and state governments to use Cares Act money for a full year.