DENVER — Relief is on the way for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the weekend, President Trump signed a $900 billion bipartisan pandemic relief bill into law after delaying its approval by nearly a week.
The relief package extends unemployment benefits, offers $600 stimulus checks to low and middle-income earners, extends the federal eviction moratorium, offers help to small businesses and offers billions to help with vaccine distribution and testing among other things.
“This is going to be a short-term solution, but we do need a short-term solution right now,” said Kishore Kulkarni, a professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Federal officials expect the $600 checks to start going out a week after the bill was signed into law, meaning a couple of days after the New Year.
Anyone who earns $75,000 or less will be eligible to receive the full $600 stimulus check. Eligible families will receive an additional $600 per child.
The checks will be based on 2019 IRS tax returns. Those who have already filed their tax returns shouldn’t need to do anything to receive the stimulus payment. Those who are concerned or who have questions can get help through the Get My Payment portal on the IRS website once it opens.
The unemployment benefits will be a little more complicated. After the bill was signed, state labor departments now must await guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The relief bill extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits through March 13.
“State labor department cannot begin programming our systems to administer these new benefits until we receive official U.S. Department of Labor guidance, eligibility requirements, documentation requirements and what we need to reprogram our systems to administer the benefits,” said Cher Haavind, the deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
That guidance can take anywhere from two to six weeks. The federal benefits also lapsed over the weekend, which further complicates the issue.
The CDLE is also getting ready to undergo upgrades to modernize its unemployment benefits system, which means there will be several days in early January that the system will be pulled down for maintenance.
CDLE anticipates the work will take three days, during which time claimants will not be able to request payments or file a claim.
Because of all of this, the federal unemployment relief will likely not go out to Coloradans until late January or early February. Claimants do not need to contact CDLE or take action at this time.
In coming days, CDLE will send out more information to the unemployed explaining what will happen.
“The help will be there very shortly. So, I think if people hang onto their budgets for the next two, three or four weeks, even if they are unemployed, the help in short-term is coming,” Kulkarni said.
However, Kulkarni stresses that this type of government spending is a temporary solution that will only work a couple of times due to the national debt.
He is worried about the long-term impacts of these types of programs on the country’s overall economic health.
“Our national debt is out of hand already. It is greater than our GDP, and so sooner or later the world is going to start asking the question are we able to repay our national debt? When that question becomes really serious, the treasury bond rating starts to go down and then there are some more financial problems that can occur,” Kulkarni said.
With the vaccine now in distribution, he believes it may be time to start considering how the country will move beyond the pandemic and rebound economically.