Millions of families and individuals desperate for action are left with fading hope as their emergency assistance expires.Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, sets up a sign alongside a group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress as they announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1.Tasos Katopodis / Getty ImagesDec. 7, 2020, 11:48 PM UTCBy Ben Popken
A slew of emergency relief benefits enacted to protect everyday Americans from financial hardship and health risks from the coronavirus pandemic are set to expire at the end of the month.
A bipartisan group of senators has said it will introduce new legislation, potentially as early as Monday, for a new round of stimulus support up to $908 billion. But its fate is uncertain. Democrats have favored a broad, comprehensive relief package, while Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., support more narrowly defined support.
As the glimmers of progress emerge, it remains to be seen whether it will again be blocked before it can make it to President Donald Trump’s desk, leaving millions of families and individuals desperate for action, with their hopes fading as quickly as their emergency assistance.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
This program extended regular unemployment insurance from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. The national average weekly payment is nearly $320, but it varies by state, as low as about $180 a week in Louisiana and as high as $486 in North Dakota, according to the latest data. Federal funding ends Dec. 31, affecting about 4.6 million out-of-work people.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Independent contractors, self-employed and gig workers and other workers who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits got up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance under the CARES Act. It was supposed to have been calculated based on their previous income levels, but the average reported payout by states has been about $114 to $357 per week, close to the minimum allowable benefit and below the poverty line in most of the states that responded, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. Full federal funding for PUA ends Dec. 26, affecting about 7.3 million workers. After that, federal support drops to 50 percent, although some states are choosing to then opt out entirely.
Paid leave protection
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, certain employers are required to give time off to people who were caring for others or who were sick themselves. The act allowed up to 10 paid sick days and up to 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave, and it included for part-time workers. It provided for full wages up to $511 a week and two-thirds of wages if recipients were caring for other people or children whose schools were closed.
The goal was to make sure that employees didn’t have to choose between risking their health or losing their jobs, a choice that fell more heavily on minority and low-income workers, who are more likely to be in jobs that require physical presence. It was the first time Congress had required federal paid leave for private-sector workers. The measures end Dec. 31.
Renter eviction moratorium
A health order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed tenants nationwide, who met certain conditions, to give their landlords signed declarations to temporarily stop evictions or take the sworn testimony to court. Tenants were still required to make as close to full rent payment as possible and to make their best efforts to get all government assistance for rent they could. But according to the CDC website, landlords are still allowed to conduct eviction proceedings and take tenants to court, up to the point of actually evicting them. Some judges have ruled in favor of landlords who challenged whether their tenants had proof that they had fulfilled their obligations. Others have gotten around the order by raising rent or exploiting other legal loopholes or through illegal measures like changing locks or removing front doors.
In the 27 cities tracked by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, landlords filed over 73,000 eviction notices since the CDC order went into effect Sept. 4. Evictions don’t just force tenants to find new homes or go into homelessness; according to a new study, over 10,000 deaths have been linked to states’ lifting of eviction moratoriums.
Home foreclosure and eviction moratorium
For homes with federally backed mortgages from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, foreclosures were suspended for single-family homes and for evictions from properties that are already foreclosed but still have people living in them. The protections were set to expire earlier in the year, but they have been renewed monthly. Last week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency again extended the deadline, from Dec. 31 to Jan. 31, affecting an estimated 28 million people.
Student loan deferment
Student loan deferments were set to expire Dec. 31, but they were extended Friday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to Jan. 31. The order allows federal student loan borrowers to stop making payments, pauses interest and suspends debt collection. A stop on wage garnishment for defaulted borrowers also remains in effect. The protections are not required for private student loans, which make up nearly 8 percent of all student loans, nearly $132 billion, according to estimates by MeasureOne, an academic data collection company.
Penalty-free retirement withdrawal
The CARES Act allowed for penalty-free early withdrawals from 401(k) and IRA retirement accounts, up to $100,000. The normal 10 percent penalty was waived, and there were no mandatory withholding requirements. Participants in 401(k) plans could take out their entire balances, instead of only half, up to the full amount, and payments on the loans could be delayed for a year. The grace period ends Dec. 31.