COVID-19 Pandemic Updates
The respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, has now been detected in countries across the world, including the United States. While the family of coronaviruses has been around for some time, the Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, is a new kind of coronavirus.
Currently, there are three vaccines that have been approved for emergency authorized use in the United States: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses — the initial dose with a second dose required three or four weeks after the first dose. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose.
Each of these vaccines is available in Maryland. While vaccine eligibility varies by county, President Biden has announced that ALL Americans will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1st.
COVID VACCINE NEWSLETTER
Every Monday, my team and I release our COVID Vaccine Newsletter. This newsletter will provide you with the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in our community and where you can get a vaccine.
UPDATES FROM CONGRESS
On Thursday, March 11th, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law, a $1.9 trillion relief package to help children, workers, families, and small businesses manage the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Below are a number of measures in the American Rescue Plan Act that will impact Marylanders.
Crushing the Virus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will receive $7.5 billion to expand vaccine distribution, administration, and tracking, as well as $1 billion in additional funding to bolster vaccine confidence and education, and improve vaccination rates. FEMA will receive $7.5 billion to set up vaccination sites across the country.
The Department of Health and Human Services will get $5.2 billion to support research, development, manufacturing, production and purchasing of vaccines, therapeutics, and medical products to treat and prevent COVID-19 and its variants.
The bill authorizes $47.8 billion for the Department of Health & Human Services to expand testing and tracking nationwide. It also authorizes $1.75 billion for the CDC to conduct, expand, and improve activities to sequence genomes, identify mutations, and survey the circulation and transmission of viruses including SARS-CoV-2.
ARPA approves over $7.6 billion for the Department of Health & Human Services to expand our public health workforce and enhance its ability to respond to the current pandemic. Kaiser Health News reports that at least 38,000 state and local public health jobs have been lost since 2008.
The ARPA also expands funding for Community Health Centers, which serve 30 million patients nationwide. These centers will receive $7.6 billion to carry out COVID-19 vaccine-related activities; conduct COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, surveillance, mitigation, and treatment; purchase COVID-19 equipment and supplies; support health care workforce; expand health care services and infrastructure; and conduct COVID-19 community outreach and education activities.
Defense Production Act
The Defense Production Act allows the federal government to order manufacturers in the private sector to produce critical supplies. The American Rescue Plan Act provides $10 billion to expand domestic production of personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccines, and other medical supplies.
The American Rescue Plan Act authorizes a third round of immediate, direct payments to lower-and middle-income Americans. Payments will be $1,400, with a phase out at an annual income of $75,000-$80,000 for those filing single, $112,500-$120,000 for head of household, and $150,000-$160,000 for joint filers.
Eligible parents may receive payments for each of their dependents, up to $1,400 including adult dependents and college students. Previously, parents with eligible dependents were eligible to receive only $600 per dependent under the CARES Act.
Your most recent adjusted gross income will be used by the IRS to determine the amount you are owed. If you haven’t submitted your taxes for 2020, the agency will rely on your 2019 income. The payment is technically based on the income you earn in 2021. So, if you earn less this year, you can claim any additional amount when you file next year.
This process is similar to the distribution of past stimulus payments. For this reason, taxpayers who received past stimulus payments based on their 2018 or 2019 federal tax return information should click here to learn more about the Recovery Rebate Credit. Taxpayers can claim a credit on their 2020 federal income tax return for the difference between (a) the amount they are entitled to under law and (b) the amount they received as an advanced payment.
Enhanced unemployment insurance is extended until September 6, 2021 under the American Rescue Plan Act, including the $300 federal boost to unemployment benefits.
It also includes extensions of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, created by the CARES Act to support individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation – this includes self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers.
There are also extensions for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which allows states to provide additional weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who previously received unemployment benefits but exhausted those benefits.
Congress’ $100 per-week supplement for “mixed-income workers,” who are self-employed but earned income through traditional W-2 employment was extended through September 6, 2021.
The bill exempts up to $10,200 in unemployment compensation income for 2020 for households with incomes under $150,000. By law, unemployment payments are taxable.
Expanded Child Tax Credit
Parents and caregivers can claim a Child Tax Credit (CTC) to help reduce their tax bill or provide an extra cash benefit, depending on the number and ages of their dependents. The American Rescue Plan Act drastically scales up CTC: it temporarily increases the amount from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under 6 and $3,000 for children older than 6. It also allows families to receive the money as up-front regular payments instead of one lump sum when they file their taxes. Finally, the bill makes the credit fully refundable, meaning that even if a family doesn’t have a large federal tax liability, they will be able to enjoy the full benefit of the credit.
The credit will be advanced based on 2019 or 2020 returns, but, similar to the Economic Impact Payment, any portion of the credit that a taxpayer is eligible for and does not get in their regular payment can be claimed when they file their 2021 taxes. The bill expands eligibility for the credit to age 17, rather than age 16 for one year. The expanded credit phases out for filers earning more than $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for head of household, and $150,000 for joint filers. The base credit now phases out at $200,000 for individuals and $400,000 for joint filers.
Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
Eligible working Americans can use the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to help offset the costs associated with caring for a child or dependent with disabilities. An individual or family’s child care expenses and income determine the size of the credit. The American Rescue Plan Act increases the amount of child care expenses that are eligible for the credit to $8,000 for one qualifying individual and $16,000 for two or more qualifying individuals for the year 2021. It also makes the credit fully refundable for one year.
Earned Income Tax Credit
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for low to moderate-income taxpayers. Eligible individuals or joint filers can claim the credit if they either fall below a certain maximum adjusted gross income or can qualify at a higher level with “qualifying children.”
Typically, to claim EITC without qualifying children, an individual must fall below the maximum adjusted gross income threshold and be between 25 and 65 years of age. The American Rescue Plan Act makes individuals as young as 19 – who are not students – eligible for the credit for 2021. It also eliminates the upper age limit. Finally, it increases the income levels at which the credit begins to phase out.
Rent and Mortgage Payments
The American Rescue Plan Act includes $21.55 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance for state and local governments to provide financial assistance to eligible renters. These funds can be used to cover missed rent payments and unpaid utility and energy bills.
The American Rescue Plan Act authorizes $9.961 billion for the creation of a Homeowner Assistance Fund, which will provide grants to states and other housing entities to support homeowners. These funds can be put towards many housing-related costs such as mortgage payment assistance, principal reduction, broadband costs, homeowner’s insurance, flood insurance, mortgage insurance, HOA funds and condo association fees, property taxes, property insurance, and utilities.
It also provides $100 million for housing counseling to help homeowners and renters behind on monthly payments or who need help navigating their housing options.
Assistance for People Experiencing Homelessness
The American Rescue Plan Act includes $5 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue or renew emergency housing choice vouchers for individuals or families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
LIHEAP and Water Utility Bill Assistance
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps millions of vulnerable American families by providing critical home heating and cooling help. $4.5 billion in funding is included for LIHEAP, as well as $500 million for low-income water assistance to help low income families meet their utility expenses.
The relief package supports more businesses and nonprofits by expanding Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) eligibility, increasing program funding for the PPP, and replenishing funding for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. Industries such as restaurants, bars, and independent venues, who were deeply affected by the pandemic, will receive additional relief too.
Paycheck Protection Program
This bill adds $7.25 billion in funding for PPP and expands eligibility for certain nonprofits. More information about the PPP can be found here.
The bill creates a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Support from this fund will be provided in the form of grants. The amount will be the difference between a restaurant’s 2019 and 2020 revenue, with a maximum grant of $5 million per location and $10 million per business entity.
Support for Live Venues
The ARPA authorizes $1.25 billion in additional funding to assist shuttered entertainment venues. The fund will provide grants to eligible live venue operators, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, museum operators, motion picture theatre operators, or talent representatives that have experienced significant revenue losses.
The bill allows eligible applicants to access both the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and PPP.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Advance Grants
The relief package approves $15 billion in new funding for EIDL grants to be targeted at the hardest hit small businesses.
Paid Leave Credit
The bill extends paid sick and expanded Family and Medical Leave Act credits to eligible employers through September 30, 2021. Other provisions include an increase in the limit on the credit for paid family leave to $12,000 per worker, an increase in the number of leave days a self-employed individual can take, and allows employees to use leave if they are getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
Employee Retention Tax Credit
The bill expands the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which helps employers retain and rehire workers, through December 31, 2021. The credit is more generous for severely financially distressed employers and is expanded to cover most new startups that were formed after February 15, 2020.
Schools, Higher Education, and Child Care
ARPA provides nearly $129 billion in emergency relief funding to help students catch up academically and prepare public K-12 schools for safe in-person instruction. This funding can help with shrinking class sizes, ensuring classrooms are socially distant, updating HVAC systems, hiring additional teachers, nurses, and counselors, and much more. Additional funding will go towards increasing rural broadband to ensure all students can complete their homework with reliable internet access.
Colleges and Universities
ARPA provides $39.6 billion to colleges and universities, with half of the funds being earmarked for use on emergency financial aid grants for students struggling with costs. The other half of that funding will help cover costs associated with facility cleaning, testing, vaccination efforts, mental health resources, PPE expenses, and pay for other lost revenue and increased costs.
Child Care and Head Start
The bill provides $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, which helps states, tribes, and territories provide aid to low-income working families to access and afford child care. $24 billion will also go to Child Care Stabilization grants, which states must award to support struggling child care providers. The funding can be used to pay operating expenses, purchase cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, and to provide mental health support. The bill also increases funding for Head Start, which provides support for early childhood education and nutrition for low-income families.
Affordable Care Act Plans
The American Rescue Plan Act substantially expands assistance to Americans who purchase health insurance in ACA-markets. The ARPA temporarily provides health insurance subsidies to individuals who don’t typically qualify because of income restrictions and increases the amount for some individuals who already qualify. The bill also adjusts ACA subsidies so that no one would have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their household income for a benchmark plan.
COBRA requires most group health plans to provide beneficiaries with a temporary continuation of group health coverage – continuation coverage – if the group plan would otherwise be terminated when an employee loses their job. COBRA coverage does not include continued employer premium contributions. This means that workers must pay the entire premium themselves after losing their jobs. Paying for COBRA can be costly, although it provides peace of mind to individuals and families after a job loss.
The American Rescue Plan Act provides funding so that employers can pay 100% of premium contributions for workers who were laid off, had their hours reduced, or were furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will allow individuals and their relatives who are also covered by employer-health plans to continue using the coverage they are currently receiving. COBRA subsidies will be available through September 31, 2021.
The bill extends the 15% increase in SNAP benefits, through September 30, 2021. SNAP benefits help feed low-income Americans. It also extends the Pandemic EBT program, which provides financial assistance to families whose children would normally be enrolled in school meal programs. $1.4 billion in the bill will support programs authorized under the Older American Act, including $750 million specifically for nutrition programs for older Americans.
State and Local Government Support
The relief package provides $195.3 billion for states and $130.2 billion for cities and other local governments to help them cover revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic and respond to the pandemic. This funding will be used to help retain public workers, such as law enforcement and firefighters, as well as to boost pay for low-wage essential workers or invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. Funding cannot be used to cut taxes or deposited into any pension fund.
$30 billion is allotted to public transportation agencies to help sustain transit jobs and prevent severe cuts to transit services.
Amtrak also receives $1.5 billion to ensure it remains fully operational through the end of the fiscal year. This budget should end furloughs and service cuts as Americans begin traveling more frequently.
Mental Health and Addiction
The American Rescue Plan Act includes $4 billion to help combat and prevent mental health and substance use disorders. This includes grant funding for community-based and behavioral health organizations and funding to support youth mental health and suicide prevention.
The bill sets aside $95 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve early detection, response, and research into wildlife disease outbreaks; to care for captive endangered species, and to help address wildlife trafficking.
Health Outcome Disparities
The Environmental Protection Agency receives $100 million to identify and address disproportionate environmental harms on underserved communities and to update their air quality monitoring systems.
Oversight of COVID relief
The bill provides $77 million for the Government Accountability Office and $40 million for the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, established by CARES Act, to oversee and account for relief spending.
COVID-19 COMMUNITY RESOURCE GUIDE
To learn more about what our state and counties are doing to keep us safe, visit the links below: