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What's in the Senate's $1.9 trillion COVID bill? Explaining the stimulus

WASHINGTON - The Senate kicked off a marathon session Friday as Democrats forged ahead on passing President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID package, even as Republicans vied to slow down the process. 

The Senate's version is slightly different from the House bill approved last Saturday. Some key provisions were still in flux Friday night as lawmakers tried to shore up support from more moderate Democrats wary of overspending or directing money away from the most needy parts of the economy. With encouraging news about the vaccine rollout, and signs that the economic recovery is picking back up, some policymakers and Democrats are argued that the original framework for Biden's sprawling bill isn't best-suited for this moment.

Democrats are pledging to get the bill on Biden's desk before mid-March, when unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans. Even if no Republicans vote for the package, Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tiebreaking vote in the 50-50 Senate, making the American Rescue Plan Biden's first major legislative victory since taking office.

Here's a rundown of the Senate bill:

Unemployment benefits: On Friday night, Senate Democratic leaders reached an agreement over unemployment benefits with moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The nine-hour stand-off threatened to derail Senate action on the bill.

The agreement would extend the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 6, as well as provide tax relief on benefits for households making under $150,000.

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Stimulus checks: The Senate bill would send $1,400 stimulus checks on top of the $600 payments issued through the stimulus bill passed in December. Roughly $400 billion of the package would go toward another round of checks.

Earlier this week, Biden agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 payments to appease more moderate Democrats. Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels compared with the formula in Biden's initial proposal and the House bill.

In the Senate version, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.

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Aid to state and local governments: The Senate package designates $350 billion for states, cities, tribal governments and U.S. territories.

Local government funding emerged as one of the top flash points in stimulus negotiations. Moderate Senate Democrats have pushed to redirect some of those funds to invest in infrastructure and to expand the broadband network. Others on the left have grown concerned that some states would use federal aid to cut local taxes instead of spending money on covid relief.

Facing deep budget shortfalls, state and local governments have shed 1.3 million jobs since the pandemic began last year - a loss of more than 1 in 20 government jobs, according to a Washington Post analysis of government data. While tax revenue grew in some states last year, the majority - at least 26 states - were hit with declines.

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Pandemic response: Tens of billions of dollars will fund coronavirus testing and contact tracing; increasing the size of the public health workforce and funding vaccine distribution and supply chains.

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New provisions

The Senate bill provides $510 million for the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program. That money would support homeless services providers for overnight shelter, meals, one month's rent and mortgage assistance and one month's utility payments.

The Senate version expands the Employee Retention Tax Credit for startup companies and other businesses hit by the pandemic

The bill also increases the value of the federal COBRA health insurance program from 85% to 100%.

The bill adds a $10 billion infrastructure program to help local governments continue crucial capital projects.

The bill makes all coronavirus-related student loan relief tax-free.

The bill increases the total amount of Amtrak relief funding by $200 million.

For education funding, the bill sets aside $1.25 billion for summer enrichment; $1.25 billion for after-school programs and $3 billion for education technology

The Senate bill also adds $8.5 billion in funds for the Provider Relief Program to assist rural health care providers.

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The Washington Post's Jeff Stein, Erica Werner and Tony Romm contributed to this report.

 

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