Actuary Elizabeth Bauer has a new Forbes article about the impasse in Congress over reforms to help multi-employer pension plans.
But the real gem therein isn’t about pensions. It’s her paragraph on what’s in the most recent federal relief bill that House Democrats can’t seem to get Senate Republicans to agree on. Illinois desperately wants a new bill because it is counting on it to fill a $5 billion state budget hole.
The impasse in Washington is over whether the $2.2 trillion price is too high because the bill contains too much unrelated stuff.
So, Bauer skimmed through the 2,154-page bill to see if that’s true. She put what she found in one paragraph.
Here you go:
Division B includes provisions related to student financial aid, including various program requirement waivers, student loan deferral and changes to public service loan forgiveness programs. Division C extends the CARES Act emergency leave provisions, removes its 500-employee maximum, and adds more eligibility categories and reasons, but also adds OSHA worker protection requirements, and specific worker’s compensation provisions for longshoremen and federal and post office workers. Division D revises regulations and provisions related to child abuse prevention programs, as well as providing grant money for the purpose, as well as expanding school meal programs and providing flexibility in the WIC program — plus making provisions for a study of home delivery of WIC program foods. Division E provides for additional small business funding, including more PPP loan funds and microloans. Division F is where all the money is allocated to individual Americans; of course, this includes the $1,200 per adult, $500 per child checks (that’s page 725 if you’re following along); but the bill also adds additional Earned Income Tax Credit by reducing the minimum and increasing the maximum age, and increasing the phase-out amounts for childless workers; creates an advance-payment program for the Child Tax Credit; and temporarily increases the child care tax credit to 50% of costs and increasing eligibility to higher income levels vs. prior requirements; enables full deductibility of state and local taxes from federal income tax, specifically for the year 2020; as well as provisions regarding the definition of “large employer” and other technical details. Division G (page 811!) is a series of retirement-related provisions (I’ll come back to that), and Division H are the provisions of the GROW Act for composite plans (I’ll come back to that too). Division I is the extension of the special $600 per week unemployment benefit ‘til March 31, 2021, as well as additional “clarifications and improvements” including the eligibility of parents whose children’s schools are only partially re-opened; extension of federal funding of state unemployment benefits with a requirement that states report on their backlogs; and an additional $125 per week for workers who had moonlighted as “gig” workers. Division J provides for “emergency assistance, elder justice, and child and family support” through Social Services block grants for the purpose of emergency services for the disadvantaged, including home visiting programs; elder abuse prevention programs; increased funding for foster care programs, including funds for young adults who would have otherwise aged-out of foster care assistance; the elimination of work requirements for TANF welfare programs; and the elimination of welfare penalties for failing to cooperate with establishing paternity for child support purposes, through January 31, 2021. Division K provides for increasing/extending federal Medicaid money to states, provides for covid vaccines and treatment without cost-sharing via Medicaid, Medicare and private health insurance, as well as other provisions, especially related to long-term care facilities, supply chain improvements, and testing infrastructure improvements, plus the implementation of a nationwide testing and contact tracing initiative and additional public health programs. Division L consists of veterans and servicemembers provisions, such as VA healthcare and its provision for unemployed veterans. Division M calls itself the “COVID-19 Price Gouging Prevention Act,” and prohibits prices that are “unconscionably excessive” or based on the “unreasonable” increase in prices due to the pandemic, as well as subsidizing internet service and prohibiting service cut-offs, late fees, or data limits, repealing the T-band spectrum auction, requiring “just and reasonable” phone service rates at jails and prisons. Division N contains agriculture provisions, including compensation for losses when farmers were obliged to kill their livestock due to lack of access to processing plants, funds for a “dairy direct donation” program, additional assistance for farmers, as well as increases in SNAP/food stamp benefits. Division O is the “Covid-19 HERO Act” (the all-caps is intentional; it’s Housing Economic Relief and Oversight, and you know how I feel about acronyms), which intends to provide medical equipment for “first responders and essential workers” and seems to want to improve the supply chain but, let’s face it, the text all starts to look the same at this point (page 1530) so I could be mistaken, and wasn’t this in some prior division already?; subsequently, there are rental assistance, mortgage payment , and utility payment programs, a 12-month eviction moratorium and mortgage forbearance, and grants for the homeless; as well the prohibition of reporting negative credit information to credit bureaus during the pandemic and the retroactive deletion of previously-reported items, and the prohibition of debt collection on consumer debt, including the imposition of penalty interest rates or interest on accrued interest added to the balance, for both individuals as well as small businesses and nonprofits; as well as student loan forgiveness of $10,000 for private-lender borrowers; as well as access to banking for pot-related businesses where pot has been legalized; as well as, tucked away on page 1715, in section 605, the “Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act of 2020,” in which $120 billion is appropriated to provide grant money to restaurants; plus the codification of the Minority Business Development Administration, along with $3 billion in grant money appropriated; plus the creation of new and enhancement of existing lending and community banking programs for minority communities, with $13 billion appropriated for the former purpose; plus (yes, I started this summary with one sentence per division but this is getting ridiculous) a directive for the Federal Reserve to purchase state and local bonds and extend the Municipal Liquidity Facility; plus a directive for the U.S. to vote, at any international financial institution (e.g., IMF/World Bank), in support of the suspension of debt service by any debtor nation, and in support of the issuance of $2 trillion (yes, I double-checked the number of zeroes) of further IMF lending. Whew! Next up: Division P, the American Coronavirus/COVID-19 Election Safety and Security Act, which requires each state/jurisdiction to produce a contingency plan for voting during emergencies; mandates that states permit early voting for at least 15 days; mandates absentee voting for any reason without ID or notarization/witness signature requirements, the right to contest signature discrepancy rulings or missing signatures, a guaranteed ballot if the request is made 5 days prior, the acceptance of any postmarked ballot that arrives within 10 days after the election, the establishment of ballot drop-off sites including polling places themselves, “ballot harvesting” in which an individual collects an unlimited number of voters’ ballots to drop off, and absentee ballot tracking by internet or phone; as well as prohibiting voter ID by requiring the acceptance of a sworn written statement of identity instead; mandates that all voting materials be prepaid and that voters be able to register online or on a same-day basis. Division Q gets us to airlines, or, rather, payroll support for workers, so long as the airline neither furloughs employees nor cuts their pay; in addition, this division provides for FEMA funding/benefits, and modifies/waives some graduation requirements for the United States Merchant Marine Academy and the state maritime academies. Division R is about “accountability and government operations,” the Inspector General, and the modification of census deadlines; it mandates that any federal worker or contractor employee who can telecommute, must do so until December 31, 2020; authorizes borrowing by the District of Columbia through the Municipal Liquidity Facility of the Federal Reserve Board; requires that, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis calculates the GDP, they also analyze the effect with respect to each decile income group and the top 1%. Division S includes provisions to assist overseas voting; as well as the Global Health Security Act of 2020, which includes the establishment of the Global Health Security Agenda Interagency Review Council, to promote global health security, as well as the position of United States Coordinator for Global Health Security; as well as the Securing America from Epidemics Act, which implements American involvement in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Division T addresses “judiciary matters” including filing extensions for immigration petitions as well as extensions of temporary legal status, the implementation of virtual naturalization oath ceremonies; authorization to employ individuals not otherwise legally authorized to work if their employment is deemed “critical infrastructure labor or services” such as healthcare workers, school employees, food production workers, and the like; expedited processing of healthcare green card applicants and other changes increasing immigration levels of healthcare workers; the release of individuals currently being detained by ICE “unless the individual is a threat to public safety or national security”; it requires the release of all federal prisoners above age 50, within 12 months of release, or with a covered health condition, unless they are determined to pose a specific risk of violence upon release, prohibits the use of bond for pre-trial detainees, and requires the release of juvenile offenders to guardians unless deemed likely to be violent against a specific individual; in addition, it establishes grants for states to prevent or reduce the spread of covid in jails and prisons, by releasing detainees and inmates who are not likely to target a specific person for violence or are old, young, or have health conditions, in order to bring down the size of the prison population, as well as to fund rapid covid testing and other mitigation measures; it also encourages “cite-and-release” programs for those who wouldn’t endanger some specific individual if released; further, it includes the “Jabara-Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality Act of 2020,” which would provide grants to states and cities to implement the National Incident-Based Reporting System for hate crimes and to run hate crime hotlines; and it would expand eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy by more than tripling the eligible debt levels to up to $2.6 million. Finally, Division U is “other matters” and includes the presumption that any service member who becomes ill with covid will be presumed to have done so in a “service-connected” manner; the requirement that only recognized Tribal governments are eligible for Tribal-specific funds; the requirement that any entity receiving any funds in the act must ensure that energy and water service is maintained to residential customers; additional subsidies to reduce the costs for water and wastewater services for low income households; and the authorization of the prohibition of the import of additional species beyond those already listed, if it poses a risk to health. And that gets us to page 2154 and the end of the bill.
Actually, that isn’t even all that’s in the bill, as Bauer describes in her article.