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UPDATE: Some have noted the CARES Act may neglect to offer any payments to 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds, college students, the handicapped and other dependent adults. Recent legislation has been proposed — with over 80 co-sponsors — to fast-track payments to them and their families.

Tonight, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a huge $2 trillion economic aid package aimed at helping American households, including homes here in Sevier County. The legislation, dubbed the CARES Act, now goes to the House of Representatives. Unanimous approval is expected there, to avoid Congress members having to gather in Washington and risk illness.

The Coronavirus Crisis has left many unemployed or underemployed during stay-at-home orders designed to help slow the spreading epidemic. Many are in need of financial help. The CARES Act hopes to provide it.

For instance, each American adult will receive $1,200 in the coming weeks. Children will bring households an extra $500. This aspect of the economic stimulus package, alone, will inject at least $21 million into Sevier County’s local economy.

Money will be distributed in the same fashion as each household’s most recent tax return — 2018 or 2019, direct deposit or via a check in the mail. There will be no application process. Every American will receive the payments in a few weeks.

About this: Please tell your friends! We do not want anyone throwing away their checks, assuming it’s some kind of junk mail or scam. Our friends, family, and local economy need this assistance. Please share this information! Here is the actual text from the CARES Act:

“SEC. 6428. 2020 RECOVERY REBATES FOR INDIVIDUALS.

“(a) IN GENERAL.—In the case of an eligible indi23 vidual, there shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by subtitle A for the first taxable year beginning in 2020 an amount equal to the sum of —

“(1) $1,200 ($2,400 in the case of eligible individuals filing a joint return), plus

“(2) an amount equal to the product of $500 multiplied by the number of qualifying children…

“(c) LIMITATION BASED ON ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME.—The amount of the credit allowed by subsection (a)… shall be reduced (but not below zero) by 5 percent of so much of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income as exceeds —

“(1) $150,000 in the case of a joint return,

“(2) $112,500 in the case of a head of household, and

“(3) $75,000 in the case of a taxpayer not described in paragraph (1) or (2).”

The new measure also adds $600 a week to regular unemployment insurance benefits for those laid off or let go. It also extends those benefits, which usually are offered for about 6 months, for an additional four months. Plus, this extra unemployment coverage will be retroactive (back to January 27) and extends unemployment benefits to independent contractors and “gig” workers. Thus, each unemployed person — fired or laid off, temporarily or permanently — will receive an extra $2,400 per month, in addition to their regular unemployment support. Here’s the actual law:

“State law had been modified in a manner such that the amount of regular compensation (including dependents’ allowances) payable for any week shall be equal to —

“(A) the amount determined under the State law… plus

“(B) an additional amount of $600 (in this section referred to as ‘Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation’).”

As explained by the House Ways & Means Committee: “States would be permitted to expand eligibility to provide unemployment compensation to workers who are not normally eligible for benefits, so long as their unemployment was connected to the COVD-19 pandemic, as determined by the state and the Department of Labor. Expanded eligibility would provide benefits to self-employed individuals, independent contractors, “gig economy” employees, and individuals who were unable to start a new job or contract due to the pandemic. Individuals would apply for these temporary new federal benefits at the state UC office, and states would be fully reimbursed for the cost of benefits and administration.”

To be clear, the new Unemployment Insurance provisions are designed to raise most Americans’ benefits to the national average of about $52,000 per year. Even if you “KNOW” that you don’t deserve unemployment, you might now. If your income has been disrupted over the COVID-19 outbreak for the many reasons explained here, presented in a helpful, easy-to-understand, questions-and-answers article. However, people who quit their jobs (say, to try to get unemployment payments) will likely be blocked from this program, so, if you’re working, stay working.

But wait, there’s more. Local employers will want to research this next part, carefully:

The CARES Act also offers support to employers who are willing to not lay off any employees — even if their workers are home, self-isolating, working or not. Companies with less than 500 employees can get a “loan” from the Federal Reserve Bank for up to $10 million. Provided the money is used to pay employees’ salaries, the $10 million “loans” becomes “grants,” and will not be paid back. Also, it appears mortgage, rent, and utility costs will be paid on the company’s behalf.

There is much more to this enormous economic package, such as allowing people to use their 401(k) savings — penalty-free and defer Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). It also expands the agriculture bailout program. It allows individuals to delay payment of their 2020 payroll taxes. Of course, all coronavirus testing will be free. And (potential, future) vaccines (if any) will also be offered for free.

The CARES Act is designed to head off a looming economic depression, proactively, in a helpful fashion. The costs are high — about $2,000,000,000,000 — but not as much as they would be trying to prop up a ruined economy after a destructive downward spiral.

What’s next? While officially heading into recess, members of Congress are already calling for additional measures to help families, businesses, and medical personnel in the face of the global pandemic.

Meanwhile, many families in Sevier County can now rest easy — at home — knowing that many of their immediate economic concerns are cared for. With utility costs already extended by local providers, even if left unpaid, this economic help will go a long way to keeping all of us safe, healthy, and ready to move forward whenever the danger of COVID-19 passes.

Summary of each provision of the CARES Act from the Senate Finance Committee: www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/CARES%20Act%20Section-by-Section%20(Tax,%20Unemployment%20Insurance).pdf

You may read the text of the new legislation here: www.npr.org/2020/03/25/820759545/read-2-trillion-coronavirus-relief-bill

More news coverage:

NOTE: This “frequently-asked questions” article from the New York Times is particularly helpful. It includes eye-popping information not available elsewhere, such as: “If you rely on a school, day care or another facility to care for a child, elderly parent or another household member so that you can work — and that facility has been shut down because of coronavirus — you would be eligible” for the $600 PER WEEK through the unemployment program. Self-employed workers are also included. Why $600/week? That’s explained also. Tons more info here. If you read one news item about the CARES Act, this is the one to read:
– New York Times: www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-stimulus-package-questions-answers.html

– NPR: www.npr.org/2020/03/25/818881845/senate-reaches-historic-deal-on-2t-coronavirus-economic-rescue-package

– Axios: www.axios.com/whats-in-coronavirus-stimulus-bill-320eedcb-ce06-4dea-b736-8fa59a4dd5b0.html

– CNBC: www.cnbc.com/2020/03/26/you-can-now-make-penalty-free-withdrawals-from-retirement-savings.html

– Forbes: www.forbes.com/sites/anthonynitti/2020/03/25/congress-reaches-agreement-on-a-coronavirus-relief-package-tax-aspects-of-the-cares-act/#674963335f99

– HuffPo: www.huffpost.com/entry/coronavirus-stimulus-checks-eligibility-relief-payment_l_5e7a920cc5b620022ab2d4e8

– Vox: www.vox.com/2020/3/25/21192716/senate-deal-coronavirus-stimulus

– The Week: theweek.com/articles/904647/congress-set-pass-biggest-stimulus-history-not-completely-terrible