Amended COVID Relief Bill Passed by Senate

The U.S. Senate passed the American Rescue Plan Act in the early hours of Saturday, March 6, 2021, after a session that lasted twenty-seven hours. The legislation was approved with a 50-49 vote along party lines, with one Republican senator absent. 

The Senate bill made several notable changes to the original House legislation that was passed on February 27, 2021. A major amendment made by the Senate was the removal of a $15 per hour federal minimum wage increase. This was removed from the bill after the Senate parliamentarian decided that the wage increase did not meet the rules for budget reconciliation. 

Stimulus check eligibility was also narrowed by the Senate, and at this time, individuals earning less than $75,000 a year will receive a payment of $1,400. Married couples earning less than $150,000 a year will receive $1,400 per person, and families with dependents will also receive $1,400 per dependent. However, the legislation does not provide stimulus payments for individuals who make more than $80,000 per year, or married couples earning more than $160,000 per year. 

The Senate legislation reduced the federal unemployment benefits from $400 per week to $300 per week, but made the first $10,200 of benefits tax free for households making less than $150,000 in annual income. The bill also extends the unemployment benefits eligibility period for two important programs through September 6, 2021:  The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to freelancers, gig workers, and independent contractors, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides additional unemployment payments to those who previously collected state or federal unemployment compensation benefits. The original House bill did not include the tax provision and would have terminated these unemployment assistance programs after August 29, 2021. 

Aside from the major changes outlined above, the Senate legislation largely resembled the original House bill and includes several items that impact small business owners: 

  • A $28.6 billion grant, called the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, for restaurants and bars that lost revenue during the pandemic; 
  • $7.25 billion in additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds; 
  • An additional $15 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which provides grants up to $10,000 to small businesses in low-income communities; 
  • $1.25 billion for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program; 
  • $175 million to assist small businesses in underserved and underbanked communities through the Community Navigator Pilot Program; and 
  • $1.325 billion to the Small Business Administration for administrative funding needed to implement these programs. 

The legislation will be sent back to the House of Representatives for a vote, which is targeted for Tuesday, March 9, or Wednesday, March 10. If the House approves the amended version, President Biden may sign the bill as early as this week.  

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