COVID Relief Is Finally Coming: While Not Nearly Enough, Recent Federal Legislation Provides Support and Protections for Our Client Community
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The Coronavirus Response And Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 (the COVID relief legislation just passed by Congress and signed by the President) will provide some much-needed assistance in areas of importance to our client community.  Legal Aid is pleased that our clients (most of whom are Black and Brown, and have therefore disproportionately suffered from the economic and health burdens of this pandemic) will finally receive some relief from the federal government after far too many months of inaction and additional delays in recent days leading to the loss of unemployment benefits for millions nationwide.

Although it is far too little given the magnitude of the crisis our client community is experiencing, the legislation does offer some important relief.   Below are some of the highlights of the legislation that will help our clients.

Economic Impact (Stimulus) Payments. The legislation will fund additional stimulus payments of $600 per family member (adults and children).  The legislation expands eligibility to provide payments to families in which one adult member is a non-resident alien.  (Unfortunately, it does not allow non-citizens to receive these funds nor does it provide for payments for adults who are claimed as dependents by others on their taxes.)

Protection of Stimulus Payments from Garnishment for Child Support and Other Debts. In notable contrast from the first round of stimulus relief, individuals owing debt will receive the full amount of their second round stimulus payments. Unlike the payments provided by CARES Act, payments funded by the new legislation cannot be seized to offset child support arrears, or garnished by debt collectors or creditors. As with payments under the CARES Act, second round stimulus relief also cannot be intercepted for tax debt or student loan debt.

Extended Unemployment Insurance and PUA Benefits.  In this legislation, Congress: (1) added an additional $300 per week on top of state unemployment benefits and PUA benefits  (a reduction from the $600 per week authorized in the CARES Act from April - July 2020); (2) continued the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (which provided unemployment benefits to gig workers and others who might not have qualified for traditional state unemployment benefits) through March 31, 2021; and (3) extended the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and 100 percent federal funding for the Extended Benefits program which provides additional weeks of benefits to workers who have exhausted their existing benefits.  Unfortunately, the delayed signing of the legislation causes great uncertainty about whether more than 39,000 District workers will experience a delay in their next Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits payment.

Increased SNAP Benefits.  Congress has increased monthly SNAP benefits by 15 percent for all SNAP households from January 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021.

Continuation of Federal Eviction Moratorium.  The bill extends an eviction moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was set to expire at the end of this year, to January 31, 2021.  (This moratorium is separate from the eviction moratorium imposed by the District of Columbia during the Public Health Emergency, which was extended through March 31, 2021 in an Order signed by Mayor Bowser last week.)

Funding for Emergency Rental Assistance.  The legislation will provide $25 billion to states and localities to find emergency rental assistance.  In the District, approximately 50,000 households currently are behind in their rent and facing eviction when the moratorium ends.

Treats the District as a State Instead of a Territory.   The legislation corrects the inequity imposed by the CARES Act by treating the District as a state rather than a territory; but it does not provide retroactive funding to make up for that imbalance, thus making it harder for the District to meet its residents’ needs.

While acknowledging the legislation’s benefits, we fear that the impacts of this pandemic will still be borne by our client community.  Specifically, the lack of worker protections, mandated sick and family leave and insufficient economic support and direct assistance for state and local governments will limit the legislation’s ability to reverse the health and economic damage that our client community has suffered.

President-Elect Biden has already spoken about the need for additional COVID relief.  We agree and hope that the incoming Administration will quickly propose (and Congress will pass) additional economic relief and health protections to our clients who need them.

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