Your Congress in Action: Vol. 25

03/15/2021 2:04 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

Your Congress in Action is a series that highlights the Capitol Hill news that affects CRM firms the most. Be sure to subscribe to the ACRAsphere to ensure you don't miss an update.

As the country marks the one-year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown this month, Congress and the White House are taking large and, some say, costly steps to help the economy recover.

Last Thursday, President Biden signed into law a massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, following Congressional passage earlier in the week. The bill includes:

  • Stimulus checks of $1,400 for individuals making under $75,000 and $2,800 for married couples making under $150,000. Individuals making less than $80,000 or married couples making below $160,000 will get smaller checks.
  • Additional $300-a-week federal bonus in unemployment benefits through September 6.
  • Increased child tax credit (currently $2,000) to $3,600 per child under 6 and $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17, which the IRS will send out to eligible recipients in regular installments.
  • Increased childcare tax credit, which can cover up to half the cost of childcare expenses, to $4,000 per child and $8,000 total.
  • $14 billion to distribute and administer vaccinations, $48 billion for testing and contact tracing and $50 billion for FEMA relief.
  • $350 billion for state and local governments ($220 billion for states, territories and tribal governments and $130 billion for metropolitan cities, localities and counties).
  • Loan assistance for "socially disadvantaged" farmers and ranchers who belong to groups that have faced ethnic or racial discrimination.
  • $22 billion in rental assistance, $5 billion in homelessness aid and nearly $10 billion to help homeowners pay mortgages.
  • $1.7 billion for Amtrak, $135 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $135 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities and $175 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • $125 billion to help K-12 schools open, with some of the funding targeted at measures that address learning loss since the start of the pandemic.
  • $39 billion for childcare providers and $40 billion for higher education, half of which is reserved for financial aid for students.
  • Increased subsidies for customers who buy insurance through Obamacare, lowering premiums across the board and outright eliminating them on benchmark plans for people making under 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Provisions that allow people who left jobs during the pandemic and want to maintain their existing employer insurance to have 100 percent of their premiums subsidized through COBRA.
  • $28.6 billion in grants for restaurants.

Democrats have hailed the package for not just addressing the economic dislocation caused by the pandemic, but taking concrete steps to address persistent poverty. A Columbia University study estimated that the overall changes could cut child poverty by half. Republicans criticized the bill for being a progressive wish-list of spending unrelated to COVID that will explode the national debt and risk overheating the economy, leading to inflation. No matter which side you are on, there’s no doubt the bill will be a major talking point for both sides until the next election.

With the COVID relief bill enacted, the capital’s attention is turning to the question of what’s next on Biden's agenda. Although infrastructure is widely believed to be the next big legislative push, there is some speculation that the crisis at the Mexican border may push Congressional Democrats to take up Biden's immigration plan next. However, it is not clear if the plan - which focuses on providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people and addressing the root causes of migration - will even have enough support in the Democratic-controlled House at this point, much less the Senate.

Infrastructure might not be much easier. Despite the near-universal belief that infrastructure is a “bipartisan” issue, there are plenty of areas of disagreement between the parties, from the overall price tag to how (and whether) to address the climate crisis. Democrats want the bill to invest anywhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion in infrastructure. But they will have to make a difficult choice: work with Republicans to advance a bipartisan bill (which would likely mean it will spend less), or rely solely on Democratic votes to push the bill through the Senate. But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has thrown cold water on that idea, saying he wants a bill that has backing from both parties. If Democrats try to go it alone in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate, they can’t afford to lose Manchin’s vote. Either way, the word is that House Democrats may unveil a bill, or at least a framework, by early April.

Despite the partisan tensions, there are examples of the two parties working together to address the economic challenges. Last week, House and Senate lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement to extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for two months beyond the current March 31 expiration date. The deal, which the House may vote on this week, would delay the PPP's loan application deadline to May 31 and give the Small Business Administration authority to continue processing pending applications for 30 days after that date.

Even as Congress extends the PPP program, they must contend with some of its unintended consequences. In the last Your Congress in Action, we noted that ACRA has raised concerns with lawmakers about how taking PPP loans affects how much firms can be paid on federal government contracts. The government has interpreted a provision in federal procurement rules to mean that PPP recipients whose loans are forgiven must credit the value of the loan back to the government when they contract with federal agencies. This could force many small firms to choose between accepting PPP loans and seeking government contracts. Several representatives have told ACRA they agree this is a problem and have promised to look into solutions.

This is an issue that came to ACRA’s attention through its Small Business Committee, and is just one example of how ACRA uses its advocacy tools to address issues that affect the CRM industry. It’s also a reminder that, despite the partisan battling on Capitol Hill, citizens can make a difference when they engage with their elected representatives, even during a pandemic.

To that end, we invite you to sign up for ACRA’s first-ever Virtual Advocacy Week, April 19-24. ACRA will help you set up virtual meetings with your federal representatives to educate them on CRM and how they can help the industry move forward. For more information, click here.

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