Are We There Yet? American Seniors Anxiously Await COVID Relief
Congress was once again unable to reach a deal on COVID relief this week, delaying much-needed aid to struggling Americans – especially seniors. The pandemic has hit seniors especially hard, both physically and financially. Lawmakers came close to agreement this week on a $900 billion relief package, but do not expect to have a final agreement until next week.
Republicans threw in a monkey wrench yesterday, with one GOP Senator pushing to block the incoming Biden administration and the Federal Reserve from reviving expired loan programs for struggling businesses.
“We almost have a bipartisan COVID package, but at the last-minute Republicans are making a demand that WAS NEVER MENTIONED AS KEY TO THE NEGOTIATIONS. They want to block the Fed from helping the economy under Biden. It’s the reason we don’t have a deal.” – Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) on Twitter
If Congressional negotiators can work through this latest demand, Americans may finally receive the pandemic relief they so urgently need – and have been waiting for – since lawmakers passed the most recent COVID aid bill last spring.
Here is what is in the tentative agreement and why it matters for seniors:
After initial resistance from Republicans, the proposed package now includes another round of stimulus payments, reportedly $600 for adults and $600 per child for individuals earning up to $75,000. Though not as generous as last summer’s $1,200 payments, any additional money would no doubt help seniors living on fixed incomes who face rising costs for everything from housing to prescription drugs. Social Security beneficiaries probably will not have to file income tax returns to get their stimulus checks. When the first stimulus payments were rolled out last summer, seniors originally were told that they would be required to file income taxes in order to receive stimulus payments – though that policy was later clarified so that Social Security recipients were eligible automatically.
In its current form, the relief package includes extended unemployment benefits in the amount of $300 per week for ten weeks. Democrats have been pushing for 16 weeks, but Republicans have not yielded. Additional unemployment assistance will be a lifeline for older workers who may have been furloughed or fallen ill with COVID, who are not yet eligible for Social Security.
The proposal as it now stands provides $25 billion in emergency assistance for Americans struggling to pay rent; it would also extend a ban on evictions through January, 2021. This could represent real relief to seniors, who have been renting homes in greater numbers during the past decade or so.
FEDERAL SENIORS’ PROGRAMS
Lawmakers are planning to wrap the COVID relief package and a continuing resolution for federal spending for fiscal 2021 into one “omnibus” bill. The funding levels for the Social Security Administration, the home heating assistance program (LIHEAP), and Older Americans Act programs that benefit seniors (especially the elderly and poor), are not certain at this point. The National Committee has been advocating for funding increases for these programs because in the past they have been flat-lined or cut, while the senior population – and their corresponding needs – have continued to grow.
As for the COVID relief bill expected to be solidified next week, National Committee legislative director Dan Adcock says that “there are some things in the package that we don’t yet know enough about and are unable to judge.” But Adcock is “guardedly optimistic” that a COVID relief package will pass before the holidays. “From what we know at this point, we think overall it is good for seniors.”