President Joe Biden signed his landmark $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package (H.R. 1319) into law yesterday – the largest injection of federal cash in history into a growing U.S. economy – before unemployment benefits begin expiring on March 14. (Politico March 9, Wall Street Journal March 10 and AP, March 11)
Why It Matters
- The total economic stimulus passed by the U.S. government over the past year now totals $5.3 trillion. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is the third and largest coronavirus relief package. (U.S. News and World Report, March 10 and Axios Capital, Mach 11)
- President Biden commented during the signing ceremony of the relief package, “…this historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation — working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance. That’s what the essence of it is.” (White House, March 11, Remarks by President Biden at Signing of the American Rescue Plan)
- Key provisions of the new law are detailed in The Roundtable’s “Summary and Analysis of Key Economic Provisions in The American Rescue Plan.” Recovery rebates of $1,400 for the vast majority of Americans and large one-year expansions of the child and child care tax credits are provided, along with increases in subsidies for health insurance and the earned income tax credit. Additional provisions include:
- $350 billion in direct fiscal aid to state and local governments
- $242 billion to extend enhanced unemployment benefits through Sept. 6
- $170 billion for educational institutions
- $28.6 billion for a Restaurant Revitalization Fund
- $26.1 billion for urban mass transit grants
- $21.55 billion for residential rental assistance
- $5 billion for tenant-based residential rental vouchers
- The bill does not include an extension of the current eviction moratorium for residential tenants or an increase in the federal minimum wage.
- While there is little business tax relief in the bill, provisions excluding restaurant and small business grants from income tax should further strengthen The Roundtable’s push to exclude COD income from tax during the pandemic, particularly since The Roundtable has explicitly proposed that the exclusion be accompanied by offsetting adjustments to tax attributes.
- The Roundtable is also continuing to urge Congress to enact the Retail Revitalization Act (H.R. 840) as part of its relief efforts. This bill would save thousands of retail jobs by allowing REITs to make equity investments in struggling tenants without violating current related-party rent rules. The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by a growing list of Ways and Means Committee Members. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 5, 2021)
- Economists expect the legislation to spark 5.95% GDP growth, the fastest in nearly 40 years, according to a recent survey by the Wall Street Journal. The poll also reports that economists expect consumer prices will rise 2.48% by December, compared to last year, and projects employers will add an average 514,000 jobs per month over the next four quarters. (Wall Street Journal, March 10)
Congressional Democrats passed the massive relief package using a budget process called reconciliation that requires a simple majority vote, bypassing the 60-vote requirement typically needed to advance most legislation in the 50-50 Senate. It is uncertain whether Democrats will opt to take a similar approach to other major policy initiatives as President Biden prepares his next major legislative push on infrastructure.
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Congressional Democrats racing to enact President Biden’s landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package before unemployment benefits expire March 14 passed The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319) early Saturday morning on a near party-line vote. The massive aid bill now goes to the 50-50 Senate where Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote. (Associated Press, Feb. 27 and Politico, Feb. 26 and text of the bill)
- The House bill provides $638 billion in tax cuts, offset by $45 billion in tax increases, representing over 2% of GDP in 2021 and a significant individual income boost for low- and middle-income Americans. While there is no business tax relief in the bill, it includes:
- $245 billion to extend enhanced unemployment benefits through August;
- $350 billion in fiscal assistance for States and localities;
- $170 billion for schools and colleges – and $85B for vaccine distribution.
- $30.5 billion in grants to mass transit
- Key elements of the bill affecting real estate include:
- $19 billion for residential rental assistance through Sept. 30, 2027, which adds to the existing $25 billion in rental assistance provided in December’s omnibus legislation;
- $10B homeowner assistance fund to help prevent foreclosure or eviction due to the pandemic;
- a new $25B Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide cash grants to food and beverage establishments.
Fed Concerns on Pandemic & CRE
As the $1.9 trillion relief package made its way through the House this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before congressional committees on the Fed’s semiannual monetary policy report to Congress before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on Feb. 23 and the House Financial Services Committee on Feb. 24.
- The Fed’s Feb. 19 Monetary Policy Report warned of significant risks to the economy as a result of the ongoing national impact of the pandemic. The report noted, “Commercial real estate prices remain at historically high levels despite high vacancy rates and appear susceptible to sharp declines, particularly if the pace of distressed transactions picks up or, in the longer term, the pandemic leads to permanent changes in demand.” (Bloomberg, Feb. 19, “Fed Sounds Alarm on Commercial Real Estate, Business Bankruptcy”)
“We don’t have a plan specifically for commercial real estate,” Powell testified. “I will say that we do see a number of sectors of commercial real estate that are under pressure, particularly office [and] hotels … which are directly affected by a pandemic. The best thing that can happen for the commercial real estate sector is [to] … get the pandemic behind us.” (Powell House Testimony)
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House Democrats are quickly advancing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal through committees to create a final bill that may face delays in the Senate, but is expected to give President Biden his first major legislative accomplishment by March. (BGov, Feb. 18)
- The Real Estate Roundtable has consistently urged Washington policymakers to take aggressive actions to combat the pandemic and its economic repercussions. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 12)
- Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last week said she expects the House will approve a bill “by the end of February so we can send it to the president’s desk before unemployment benefits expire” on March 14. (CNBC, Feb. 11)
- The House legislation is being considered under a budget reconciliation process that allows passage in the Senate with only a simple majority – yet certain measures such as a minimum wage increase face opposition from Democratic Senators that could pose delays in the 50-50 upper chamber. (The Hill, Feb. 17)
- House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) told his Democratic colleagues in a Feb 16 letter that “Members should be aware that the House may need to remain in session through the weekend next week to complete consideration.”
- Anticipating potential changes to the House bill from the Senate, Hoyer added, “During the week of March 8, the House will continue in legislative session. We will be ready to take further action on the American Rescue Plan in the event the Senate amends it and sends it back to us.” (Rep. Hoyer’s Feb. 16 Dear Colleague letter)
- The Democratic House bill include $25 billion in assistance to renters and their landlords, as well as $10 billion for assistance to homeowners. It would also provide $350 billion for state and local governments, territories and tribal governments to respond to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. (“Where things stand on the COVID-19 relief measure,” The Hill, Feb. 17)
- The two chambers must reconcile differences before a final bill is sent to Biden’s desk. Comparisons of the Democratic and Republican proposals are available from CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
Foreclosure Moratorium Extended
- President Biden on Feb. 16 further extended a ban on home foreclosures for Americans with federally backed mortgages through June 30, as well as a residential mortgage payment forbearance program that allows people to pause or reduce payments. On his first day as president, Biden issued an executive order extending eviction protections for the country’s 44 million rental households until March 31. (USA Today, Feb. 16 and Forbes, Feb. 3 )
- According to a White House Fact Sheet, the extension benefits 2.7 million homeowners currently in COVID forbearance and extends the availability of forbearance options for nearly 11 million government-backed mortgages nationwide.
The White House statement on the extensions also referred to the pandemic relief package under consideration in Congress. “To bolster these efforts, it is critical that Congress pass the American Rescue Plan to deliver more aid to struggling homeowners. The rescue plan creates a Homeowners Assistance Fund which will provide states with $10 billion to help struggling homeowners catch up on their mortgage payments and utility costs,” according to the Feb. 16 statement.
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House committees this week advanced legislative language that will transform President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package proposal into a consolidated bill and provide details on aid for states and local communities; assistance for renters and homeowners; and support for small businesses.
- The progress in the House is a positive development that brings much-needed economic relief and funding to defeat COVID-19 one step closer to enactment. The Real Estate Roundtable consistently has urged policymakers to take aggressive actions to combat the pandemic.
- Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer said,” The Real Estate Roundtable is encouraged by both Democratic and Republican efforts to work toward additional economic relief from the pandemic. Given the continuing great need for additional assistance to cities, people and businesses, we continue to urge policy makers to find a path forward.” (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 5)
- Democrats plan to pass the final legislation through “reconciliation” procedural protections, which will prevent a filibuster by Republicans when the measure reaches the 50-50 Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) yesterday said she expects the House will approve a bill “by the end of February so we can send it to the president’s desk before unemployment benefits expire” on March 14. (CNBC, Feb. 11 and Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 5)
- The House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 11 approved over $630 billion in new tax relief, including $460 billion in 2021 alone. Their provisions include $1,400 payments to individuals; credits for children, childcare and dependent care; and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The temporary federal unemployment and benefit would also be extended through August 29, 2021, increasing the weekly benefit from $300 to $400. (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 11and Ways and Means Committee mark-up videos)
- The committee proposal – “Subtitle G. Budget Reconciliation Legislative Recommendations Relating to Promoting Economic Security – passed on a partisan 24-18 vote with no amendments. (Section-by-section summary and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) description)
- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), above, stated, “Over the last two days, the Ways and Means Committee has considered aggressive, science-based solutions that will deliver the urgent relief our country so desperately needs. From unemployment benefits to health care affordability, the work we’ve done is substantial, and it is exactly what the American people have been calling on us to do to meet this moment.” (Ways and Means news release, Feb. 11)
- The House Financial Services Committee was also one of the House committees this week that held legislative markup sessions to formulate legislative details for Biden’s pandemic relief proposal. (Financial Services Committee Instructions, Feb. 4 and Markup videos, Feb. 10)
- In her markup opening statement Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) noted, “The package also includes $25 billion to provide rental assistance, including $5 billion towards 70,000 emergency vouchers and funding directed to rural and tribal communities. The package also includes language … to provide $10 billion to support struggling homeowners, who face a looming foreclosure crisis. And, it … provides $10 billion to support small businesses, including minority-owned businesses that are closing their doors at historic rates.”
- More than half of 2.7 million active home mortgage forbearance plans are set to end in March, April, May or June, according to mortgage-data firm Black Knight Inc. (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9)
- During the Small Business Committee’s Feb. 10 markup, $50 billion in emergency pandemic aid for small businesses was approved. Committee Chairwoman Nydia M. Velazquez said, “Surveys show that one in three small business owners will not survive the next few months without additional financial support.” (Rep. Velaquez opening statement, Feb. 10)
- The committee’s language would also provide $25 billion for restaurants and bars under a new Small Business Administration program, and $15 billion for “economic injury disaster” loans. (Washington Post and BGov, Feb. 11)
In the Senate, the pandemic relief package is expected to go straight to the Senate floor, circumventing the committee “mark-up” process, due to the ongoing impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which may conclude this weekend. (Bloomberg, Feb. 11)
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Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the Senate on Feb. 5 to pass a budget resolution that will allow President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package to advance without GOP support. (New York Times, Feb. 5)
- The budget resolution triggers special “reconciliation” procedural protections that prevent a possible filibuster by Senate Republicans – and will give tax-writing and other committees in both chambers until Feb. 16 to report legislative language for consolidation into a final pandemic relief bill. (“Budget Reconciliation: The Basics,” House Committee on the Budget)
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “This was a giant first step. So we will keep working as hard as we can to pass this legislation through the House, through the Senate as we go through the reconciliation process and hopefully put it on the President’s desk.” (Schumer statement, Feb. 5)
- ‘House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer issued a joint statement on Feb. 1 to unveil the budget resolution. “Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from COVID-19. The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now,” according to the statement.
- Additional unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid measures are scheduled to expire in March as calls increase for more funding to support vaccine distributions, direct payments to households, school reopenings, and relief for businesses. (AP, Feb. 2)
- Earlier in the week, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package proposal was countered by a $618 billion Republican proposal. The GOP counter-proposal did not include aid for state and local governments, rental assistance, or further extension of the CDC’s eviction moratorium beyond its current expiration date on March 31. (Comparisons of the Democratic and Republican proposals have been prepared by CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today).
- Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer said,” The Real Estate Roundtable is encouraged by both Democratic and Republican efforts to work toward additional economic relief from the pandemic. Given the continuing great need for additional assistance to cities, people and businesses, we continue to urge policy makers to find a path forward.”
Changes Possible Before Final Package
- White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki commented there may be some changes to Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” to achieve compromise on the next pandemic package, including lowering the qualifying income threshold for the proposed $1,400 in direct payments. (AP’s YouTube channel, Feb. 2)
- The reconciliation process allows for congressional tax-writing committees to consider measures that could potentially be added to the package. A group of 120 House and Senate Democrats – led by Ways and Means Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Senate Finance Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-RI) – this week urged congressional leaders to reinstate the full limitation on net operating losses and active business losses that were part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The CARES Act included tax relief that allowed businesses to carry back 2018-2020 net operating losses to prior years, thus allowing them to claim refunds for taxes paid in earlier years.
- The letter states that proceeds from reversing the NOL measure “should be repurposed to help Americans who have lost income due to the pandemic and its economic fallout.” (Feb. 2 letter)
Separately, a power-sharing agreement for the 50-50 Senate was unanimously adopted on Feb. 3 by the chamber after Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) finalized terms. The agreement allows Democrats to take control of Senate committees and formalize their leadership. (Wall Street Journal and Politico, Feb. 3)
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