Year-end legislative package and new presidential executive orders provide assistance for Americans facing hardships during the pandemic

Last month, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 became law. This legislation provides funding for many COVID-19 initiatives and programs, including assistance for Americans facing economic hardship due to the pandemic. Additionally, President Biden signed a number of executive orders aimed at enhancing and extending policies that will help those whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic.

The American Kidney Fund (AKF) knows that several of the provisions in the bill are very important to the people we serve, such as unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, vaccine distribution and the eviction moratorium. For more information on other bill provisions, including expanding Medicare coverage for immunosuppressive drugs starting in 2023, banning surprise medical bills and prohibiting states from cutting non-emergency medical transportation under Medicaid, see here.

Unemployment benefits

The bill extends the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program through March 14, 2021, providing all people who currently receive unemployment benefits with an additional $300 per week.

President Biden has called for increasing unemployment benefits for workers who have lost their jobs. On January 15, he announced his American Rescue Plan, which would increase the federal portion of unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week and calls for extending the program until September 2021. Congress would need to act on these measures and send a bill to President Biden for these steps to take effect.

Stimulus payments

A second round of stimulus payments—up to $600 this time—will go to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year. The first stimulus checks, called Economic Impact Payments, were included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed last March. In both the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, those earning more than $75,000 will received reduced payments. Couples who file their taxes jointly and have a combined income under $150,000 per year will each receive the $600 check. Parents of children under age 17 are eligible for a $600 check for each child; dependent children 17 and older are not eligible for the check. The IRS will determine eligibility based on federal tax returns filed in 2020, and they also have information on the individuals who earn below the baseline of income needed to file yearly income taxes to ensure that they will receive a check.

Many people have already received their stimulus payment via direct deposit from the IRS. For those who did not receive a direct deposit, the new law requires the IRS to send out checks by January 15, 2021. If taxpayers do not receive the check, they can receive it in addition to their tax return, as the IRS has added a line concerning the stimulus checks to the federal income tax return forms.

In response to the approximately 8 million Americans who have not yet received the initial $1,200 Economic Impact Payments and will likely face issues accessing the additional $600, President Biden has directed the Department of Treasury to expand and improve delivery of the funds by establishing online tools for claiming payment.

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan calls for an additional $1,400 per-person stimulus payment; however, Congress must pass this through additional legislation.

Vaccine distribution

The bill includes $20 billion to buy COVID-19 vaccines and just under $9 billion to help states distribute the vaccines. The bill also includes $22 billion for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and mitigation plans. An additional $3 billion will go to the National Strategic Stockpile.
In addition to the funds that Congress provided for vaccine distribution, President Biden signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act, which gives the federal government the authority to direct private companies to manufacture goods needed to increase vaccines creation and distribution.

Additionally, President Biden released a 200-page plan called the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, which includes the goal of the American people receiving 100 million shots in 100 days. His vaccination plan includes coordinating the logistics for federal distribution of vaccine delivery; establishing federally supported vaccination centers; bolstering support for state and local vaccination centers; creating mobile vaccination units for rural areas; and working with retailers and federally qualified health centers. His plan also includes a public education campaign so Americans understand the importance of getting vaccinated.

The American Society of Nephrology recommends that people with kidney disease and kidney failure get vaccinated. AKF applauds the funding for vaccine distribution and looks forward to working with our partners to raise awareness among dialysis patients and transplant recipients about the importance of getting vaccinated.

Eviction moratorium

The bill also extends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium until January 31, 2021, which means that people cannot be evicted from their homes during this time for not being able to pay their mortgage or rent. President Biden signed an executive order on January 20 extending the eviction moratorium until March 31, 2021. The Federal Housing Finance Agency extended its foreclosure and eviction moratoriums until February 28, 2021.

The legislation includes $25 billion to help people with rent and utility costs. Those funds would go to entities that state and local governments have chosen to administer the program. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) created a spreadsheet of organizations that could administer the benefits and to which people can apply for assistance. Additional information on the program can be found in the NLHIC report on Emergency Rental Assistance Programs in Response to COVID-19 and the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.


About the Author

Deborah Darcy

Deborah Darcy is the director of government relations at the American Kidney Fund.