With lawmakers back at work after an extended Fourth of July recess, there's one task on the top of their to-do list -- another coronavirus-related stimulus bill. This legislation is more necessary than ever, as millions of Americans have already spent the stimulus money authorized by the last coronavirus relief bill and COVID-19 cases have continued to spike nationwide.
The next piece of legislation aimed at staving off economic disaster could affect your finances in a number of ways, so it's important to know what will be in it. And while nothing is certain yet, there are four key provisions likely to be included.
1. Stimulus checks
Direct payments to Americans are one of the quickest ways to bolster the economy, and there's bipartisan support for them.
In fact, the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill, the HEROES Act, to provide payments, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has also indicated he's in favor of them, commenting that the country needs "another shot of adrenaline."
The next payment could be a more targeted one, potentially available to fewer Americans as some Republicans are pushing for lower income limits for eligibility compared with the first check. However, with President Donald Trump throwing his weight behind a second stimulus payment and promising a generous one, there's strong reason for most Americans to hope more money will be coming their way soon.
2. Help for the unemployed
Although there's been some improvement in recent months, the current unemployment rate of 11.1% is still extremely high. And unemployed workers could be faced with financial disaster if the next coronavirus legislation bill doesn't provide them with some help.
The last big COVID-19 relief bill offered expanded unemployment benefits to laid-off workers, providing an extra $600 in weekly benefits. But that extra cash was made available only through the end of July. If Congress doesn't extend it, the average weekly unemployment benefit will fall to $380 per week and the typical worker will get a check equaling just about a third of prior income. That's just not sustainable.
Most Republicans are strongly opposed to continuing to provide the extra $600 each week, viewing it as disincentivizing work since some people are currently getting more money to stay home than they did in their paychecks prior to the pandemic. However, McConnell said the Senate's bill will offer an alternative, which some sources indicate could be a smaller benefits boost.
One member of Republican leadership has also introduced a bill authorizing a back-to-work bonus that would allow those who return to their jobs before the end of the month to keep an extra two weeks of the $600 benefit. This $1,200 "hiring bonus," or some variation of it, could very well make its way into the next relief bill too. This would help those who were unemployed but who are able to head back to work quickly.
3. Aid to states
States have been hit hard with a double whammy -- lost revenue and huge coronavirus-related costs. In the HEROES Act, Democratic lawmakers voted to provide more than $1 trillion worth of aid to state and local governments.
While Republicans aren't on board with such a big payment -- especially as the HEROES Act provides ample flexibility in what the funds could be used for -- lawmakers on the right recognize that states need some help. However, there are some signs that any funds granted could be much more restrictive, with sources indicating the money might be earmarked specifically for schools and tied to reopening plans, as school reopening is a major priority for the Trump administration.
4. Liability protections for companies
Sen. McConnell has repeatedly pushed for liability protections to shield companies from lawsuits related to the transmission of COVID-19, except in cases of gross negligence. In fact, the Kentucky Republican has described this as a "red line" for the next coronavirus relief bill.
Some protections will likely be important to encourage companies to reopen, as they could otherwise be faced with expensive lawsuits if people become sick after visiting their establishments. It's likely this will be a provision Republicans aren't willing to compromise much on.
The next few days will be key to determining if more COVID-19 relief is coming
If lawmakers don't pass a coronavirus relief bill by Aug. 8, the chances of it happening will plummet as the Senate goes on recess again and won't be back until September.
You'll want to keep your eyes on the debate in Washington to see where things stand, while also preparing for the possibility that no compromise will be reached and no aid will come to you during the 2020 recession. Creating a crisis budget and reviewing your investment strategy are two good places to start in shoring up your finances as you wait to see if lawmakers come through for you.