CHN: About the $600 Payments?

One of the biggest sticking points in the extremely prolonged negotiations over COVID relief, the final bill included a one-time Economic Impact payment of $600 per adult and child in households.  Unlike the previous $1,200 payment, this version would not deny payments to citizens or green-card holders if their spouse or other household member were undocumented.  The bill would also allow such families to receive the $1,200 per adult they were previously denied under the CARES Act.  According to the National Immigration Law Center, the change in eligibility would mean 3.5 million people previously excluded will get help.  President Trump denounced this part of the COVID relief bill, because he wants $2,000 per adult payments and opposes including the mixed status families.  In a disappointment to people with disabilities and their advocates, the bill did not make adult dependents eligible for the $600 payment, an omission that would leave out well over 2 million people with disabilities. 

Congress agreed on the lower figure of $600 because of the pressure by Republicans to keep the cost of the whole package below $1 trillion.  It is estimated that raising the payments to $2,000 would add about $370 billion to the total cost. (The $600 payments make up $167 billion of the total $900 billion COVID relief package pricetag.)  Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and Republican Senator Josh Hawley (MO) worked together to include a bigger Economic Impact payment in the package, but ultimately agreed on the $600 figure.  Income eligibility remained the same as in the CARES Act, with benefits starting to phase out at $75,000 in income for a single individual or $150,000 for a couple. 

There are other forms of cash income assistance in the bill, such as the continued unemployment benefits (see Short-term Extension of Unemployment Benefits; Paid Leave Disappointment below).  Another significant source of income help is a change in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.  Vigorously sought by advocates, the change will allow parents claiming the credits to calculate them based either on their 2019 or 2020 earnings.  Workers who lost pay during the 2020 pandemic year might see a substantial drop in the value of these tax credits; by calculating them based on their higher earnings, hard-up families can avoid the loss of as much as a few thousand dollars. 

In regular FY21 appropriations, the Community Services Block Grant receives a small $5 million increase, to $775 million.  CSBG funds community action programs across the country that provide multiple anti-poverty services, such as Head Start, home energy assistance, weatherization, financial literacy and referral to other services.  The Social Service Block Grant remains flat-funded at $1.7 billion.