Overview of End of Year COVID-19 Relief Bill

At the end of 2020, Congress finally reached a deal on COVID-19 relief and the annual federal budget. The Alliance has been advocating for our network’s priorities since the spring passage of the CARES Act, pushing for additional relief for human services organizations and supports for our community members who are struggling due to the impact of the pandemic and economic crisis.  

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 package is much smaller than other proposals out of the House and Senate earlier this year, with a price tag of about $900 billion, as compared to the House-passed HEROES Act which was around $3.5 trillion. A smaller price tag and partisan negotiations meant many priorities were not included. For example, at the last minute, Congress removed funding for states and local government to address revenue shortfalls, in order to secure bipartisan support. We have more work and advocacy to do in early 2021 to secure additional relief. 

Some of the key provisions secured in this bill include: 

  • Extending the universal charitable deduction through 2021 and increasing the maximum amount that can be deducted for married couples filing jointly. 
  • Extending the CARES Act provision that provides a 50 percent federal reimbursement of unemployment insurance costs for self-insured nonprofits.  
  • Extending and expanding the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) by expanding both eligibility and credit rates for nonprofit and for-profit organizations, (payroll tax credit). It also makes organizations who received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan eligible for some ERTC credits for employee costs not covered by PPP loan forgiveness. 
  • Including the “Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act,” which has several important investments and regulatory flexibilities for foster youth aging out of care, for kinship caregivers, for home visiting, and more. 
  • Adding $10 billion in child care funding to support providers and families.
  • Providing $13 billion for a 15 percent increase in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits until June 30, 2021. 

There are many other key provisions in this bill. We encourage you to check out the Alliance’s detailed summary for human services organizations. Please feel free to send questions to Senior Director of Government Relations, Ilana Levinson, at ilevinson@alliance1.org.

Social Determinants Pilot Program Launched

The fiscal year 2021 Appropriations package passed at the end of December and included a new pilot program modeled on the Social Determinants Accelerator Act, introduced last fall. The program, funded with $3 million, will provide states, localities, and tribes with grants to create Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Plans. These plans will outline the health and social goals, describe target populations, and identify non-governmental, public health and community organizations that can be partners. Grants can also be used in part to connect with government entities and research experts to help develop plans.

New Employment Initiative for People with Mental Health Conditions

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced a new program called the Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative, which has a goal of finding employment opportunities for people with mental health conditions. By coordinating state policy and funding, and embracing evidence-based practices, the initiative will help states bolster their employment programs for the targeted population. DOL will choose six states through a competitive process, depending upon the quality of the state’s mental health, vocational, education, and Medicaid programs. Westat, a Maryland research firm, has been contracted to support the initiative, which will be run out of the Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Biden Announces New Cabinet Members and Other Leadership

In recent weeks, President-elect Joe Biden named a number of new appointments to the Departments of Justice, Education, Labor and Commerce, all of which require Senate confirmation. Biden put forward Merrick Garland for Attorney General, the top legal official in the federal government. Garland, a federal appeals court judge, was nominated by former President Barack Obama for the Supreme Court in 2016, only to be denied even a hearing by Senate Republicans. For Deputy Attorney General, Biden named Lisa Monaco, who advised the Obama administration on counterterrorism and homeland security. Biden also nominated Vanita Gupta for Associate Attorney General, which handles civil rights and civil litigation. Gupta worked in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration and took the lead in assessing police departments for discriminatory practices. Biden’s pick for Education Secretary is Miguel Cardona, the current education commissioner of Connecticut. Cardona, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, started his career as a teacher in Meriden, CT, his hometown. He then became principal and assistant superintendent, before becoming the top education official in the state. Cardona’s recent work has focused on reopening schools, which will be a major focus for 2021. Marty Walsh, two-term mayor of Boston, was nominated for Secretary of Labor. Walsh, a former union president, has focused on raising the minimum wage and paid family leave during his mayorship. Finally, Biden has selected Gina Raimondo, governor of Rhode Island, to be Secretary of Commerce. Former venture capitalist and state treasurer, Raimondo has prioritized clean energy, small business loans and workplace training as governor.

Rental Assistance Program Created

Last week, the Treasury Department launched the $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was created under the stimulus bill passed last month. States, territories, tribes, and localities with more than 200,000 residents can apply through a new web portal to receive funds to disburse to eligible households. At least 90% of funds must go towards rent payments, rental arrears, utility costs, and utility arrears. The rest may support administrative costs, case management, and other housing services.

To be eligible, households must have an income that is 80 percent or less of the area median income; and at least one individual qualifies for unemployment or has experienced an income reduction, increased costs, or other financial hardship; or shows a high chance of experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Families that have an unemployed member for 90 days prior or earn income below 50% of the area median income will be prioritized. Eligible households may receive assistance for up to 12 months, with an additional three months if necessary.