President Joe Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Covid Relief Plan Clears Final Hurdle In Congress; How Showbiz Will Benefit

(Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan is about to become law, after the House gave final passage to the legislation, which will provide an unprecedented lifeline to American households in the form of direct payments, child tax credits. Unemployment insurance and small-business relief.

The vote was 220-211. One Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, joined with all Republicans in voting against it. Supporters erupted in cheers in the chamber as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the vote.

Biden will sign the bill on Friday.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” he said in a statement.

Biden plans a primetime address on Thursday to trumpet the plan, which also includes money for vaccinations and testing, in the hopes that the end of the pandemic will soon be in sight. About $130 billion will go toward reopening schools.

In the debate before the vote, Democrats pointed to polls showed broad support among the American public for the plan, even among Republicans.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) cited a report that even GOP lawmakers in his state were expressing enthusiasm for the plan.

“The magnitude of the impact of this bill is truly stunning,” he said.

Republicans argued that $1 trillion has gone unspent from two other Covid-19 relief bills passed last year.

“This is just a ram job by the liberals to push through a vastly expanded entitlement system,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC).

After the House vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “This is a momentous day in the history of our country because we have passed historic and transformative legislation.”

The relief plan was praised by Actors’ Equity Association for its attention to the arts and entertainment sector.

“This pandemic has been especially brutal on arts workers; most of us have been unemployed for a year now, and are desperate to get back to work the moment it’s safe,” said Kate Shindle, Equity president. “In the meantime, the need for relief is real and urgent. This passage shows us that it’s possible to provide meaningful assistance to American workers during a crisis, and that we have to continue raising our voices.”

There is plenty in the legislation that will impact the industry:

Unemployment benefits. Gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors would continue to be eligible, with the $300-per-week in additional benefits extended through Sept. 6. The first $10,200 in benefits won’t be taxable for incomes under $150,000.

Direct payments. Financial assistance would be increased by $1,400, added to the $600 that Congress passed in December. The payments would go to those with adjusted gross incomes of up to $75,000 per year, or $150,000 for joint filers. The payments phase out for those with incomes above those levels, with individuals making more than $80,000 (or $160,000 for joint filers) not qualifying. Dependents of all ages also would qualify, but only if their parents or guardians fall within the income caps.

Child tax credit. The credit would be increased to $3,600 per child under 6, and $3,000 per child between ages 6 and 18. The benefits phase out for heads of households with income of more than $112,500 annually or joint filers making more than $150,000 per year.

Paid leave and employee retention. Companies would be eligible for tax credits if they offer paid leave to their employees. The legislation also would extend an employee retention tax credit.

Housing assistance. About $30 billion would be provided in rental assistance and $10 billion for mortgage relief.

Healthcare. COBRA premiums, paid by the unemployed to keep active their healthcare benefits, will be partially subsidized. That includes those on entertainment union multi-employer plans.

State and local governments. The bill includes $350 billion to help states and local governments make up for budget shortfalls. A concern among studios has been that lawmakers seeking to trim their budgets will target state movie and TV production incentives.

The arts. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities will each get $135 million in emergency relief for direct grants, and to state and regional organizations seeking to recover from funding shortfalls.

Public TV and radio stations. The bill provides $175 million in additional funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to be used to help stations that saw a drop in non-government contributions.

Small and medium sized businesses. The Covid-19 bill that passed in December singled out live venues and movie theaters for $15 billion in relief; this legislation targets $25 billion to restaurants and bars that saw a huge drop off in sales. The last bill also expanded eligibility of newspapers and TV stations for key small- and medium- sized business loan program, the Paycheck Protection Program; this legislation extends that eligibility for PPP loans for digital media companies. Labor unions and guilds also could apply for PPP support. Last month, the Biden Administration also changed the formula to enable a larger number of sole proprietors to obtain PPP loans.

Theaters and live event venues. Past Covid-19 relief legislation provided targeted support for movie theaters and live event venues. The new legislation adds another $1.25 billion to the $15 billion in grants to help the distressed businesses. A rule change also will allow venues to apply for the grants and for PPP loans, something that was restricted. That is important because the grant program has not yet been launched by the Small Business Administration. The grant program was established in the Covid relief legislation that passed in late December.

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