The massive social safety net that Congress put in place for Americans struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic is unraveling, with several key CARES Act provisions and executive orders set to expire at the end of the year.
That includes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program created to provide jobless benefits to gig workers and others typically not eligible for benefits, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends state unemployment benefits an extra 13 weeks.
An estimated 12 million workers will be left with no income on Dec. 26 after those federal jobless aid programs lapse, according to one study published by the Century Foundation, a nonprofit think tank.
On top of that, an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) temporarily freezing evictions nationwide is slated to expire on Dec. 31, as does the student loan forbearance that President Trump issued via executive order in August.
Over 32 million Americans had student loans that were eligible for suspended loan payments, according to data from the Government Accountability Office. (While President-elect Joe Biden has endorsed some student loan forgiveness, he does not take office until Jan. 20, meaning many borrowers may have to make payments in January).
More than 5.8 million adults say they are somewhat to very likely to face eviction or foreclosure over the course of the next two months, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey completed Nov. 9. That represents about one-third of the 17.9 million Americans who were behind on their rent or mortgage payments last month.
The $150 billion in aid to state and local governments appropriated in the CARES Act can only be applied to costs incurred in 2020, and an employee-retention tax credit for companies struggling during the virus-induced recession ends on Dec. 31.
The expiration of the aid comes at an increasingly perilous time for the nation as it teeters on the brink of another economic downturn: COVID-19 infections are surging, state and local governments are implementing more restriction measures and new unemployment insurance claims rose for two consecutive weeks for the first time since July.
Economists are increasingly warning of a bleak winter unless Congress manages to overcome to a monthslong impasse and pass another round of emergency relief for workers and businesses reeling from the virus.
“There hasn’t been a bigger need for it in a long, long time here,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said recently, his latest appeal to Congress and the White House regarding another stimulus package.
Negotiations on Capitol Hill have been stalled for months despite seemingly endless meetings between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and with just eight legislative days left on their calendar, it's unclear whether lawmakers will be able to reach an agreement before year's end.
The Senate adjourned on Wednesday for Thanksgiving and will not return until Nov. 30.
While there is broad support among members of both parties to pass another coronavirus relief bill, they disagree sharply over the size and scope of it. House Democrats maintain that at least $2.2 trillion in aid is needed, while Republicans have repeatedly expressed support for a "highly targeted" bill that would cost around $500 billion.
Further complicating coronavirus relief negotiations is that control of the Senate hinges on two Georgia runoff races that are slated to take place on Jan. 5. It's possible that congressional leaders may be less willing to compromise if they think their party can win control of the upper chamber.