U.S. speeding toward COVID-19 stimulus cliff as relief programs approach Dec. 31 expiration

November 25, 2020, 11:54 PM UTC

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President-elect Joe Biden won’t take office until Jan. 20, but he’s reportedly pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to come to some sort of COVID-19 stimulus agreement ahead of the new year. 

But while Biden works behind the scenes to bridge the still-massive gap between the Republican and Democratic plans (Democrats are in favor of a large, all-encompassing bill and Republicans want to institute a “skinny” bill with stopgap measures), it appears that nothing short of a holiday miracle will make anything happen within the 36 days left in 2020. The Senate is on recess until Nov. 30, the House is on recess until Dec. 1. Congress will adjourn for the year on Dec. 10 and the Senate on Dec. 18. That leaves between eight and 15 working days to sort out one of the most massive and divisive legislative undertakings in years. 

But without an extension, tens of millions of Americans stand to lose essential benefits provided to them under the first stimulus bill, passed earlier this year. 

With a death toll in the U.S. already well above 250,000 and surging infection rates, Americans are already struggling to stay afloat both emotionally and financially. Now, without action by Congress, 12 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits on New Year’s Eve when the CARES Act provisions lapse. 

On Dec. 31, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which gives 13 extra weeks of unemployment insurance to Americans without other options, will end along with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which helps gig workers who are out of work. 

The federal eviction moratorium will end, potentially leaving sick citizens out on the streets. There will be between 5.5 million and 6.5 million pending evictions filed by Jan. 1, 2021, according to data from Stout, an investment bank. 

Student loans also will be required to be paid in full, impacting the estimated 37 million Americans currently taking advantage of the pause in payments. One analysis found that less than 11% of people with federal student debt are currently repaying their debts. 

Poverty and income inequality have risen significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, before the country began to shut down, about one out of three households had trouble keeping up with expenses. By September, that number had increased by 5 million. Hunger in America has also hit new highs: More Americans are facing food insecurity than since 1998, according to Census data.

The changes come on top of about 33 other tax credits and provisions that are expected to end at the close of the year

“It’s the perfect storm. Here, you are losing the only available resource you had to keep your family housed, at the same time any protections against evictions are disappearing,” said Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association’s COVID-19 eviction task force.

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