Throughout March and April 2020, the U.S. government passed three main relief packages and one supplemental package, totaling nearly $2.8 trillion. After the passage of the supplementary package in April, nicknamed “stimulus phase 3.5,” there was no substantial action on COVID-19 stimulus or relief from Congress for several months as each party proposed their own stimulus package.
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May 2020, and the Republican Senate Majority proposed but did not pass, the $1 trillion HEALS Act, in July 2020. Despite offers from the House Democrats to meet in the middle at $2 trillion, the Senate Republican majority refused to move from their position, insisting on less stimulus. Finally, following the election of President Biden in November, a $900 billion stimulus bill was passed in December 2020, which then-President-elect Biden said was a “down payment” on additional stimulus and relief to be passed in 2021.
During this period, President Trump and now President Biden have issued a plethora of executive actions attempting to provide aid during the pandemic, as have various executive branch agencies. A fifth major stimulus package, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
The first relief package, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, since nicknamed Phase One, was signed into law on March 6, 2020, by President Trump. It allocated $8.3 billion to do the following:
The second relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) or Phase Two, was signed into law on March 18, 2020. It provided for $3.4 billion in relief and included the following provisions:
Separately, on March 18, 2020, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) implemented foreclosure and eviction moratoriums for single-family homes whose mortgages are FHA insured or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The FHFA’s moratorium has been extended to March 31, 2021, and the moratorium on FHA and other government back loans has been extended to June 30, 2021.
The third, and largest, relief package was signed into law on March 27, 2020. By nominal dollar amount, it is the largest single relief package in U.S. history. This law, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and nicknamed the CARES Act or Phase Three, appropriated $2.3 trillion for many different efforts:
A supplementary stimulus package, nicknamed Phase 3.5, was signed into law on April 24, 2020. It allocated $484 billion, mostly to replenish the PPP and the EIDL, and contains additional funding for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.
Another supplementary measure, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, which modifies the PPP, was signed into law on June 5, 2020. It made the following changes to the program:
A third piece of supplementary legislation was passed on July 4, 2020, which extended the deadline for small businesses to apply for the PPP from June 30, 2020, to Aug. 8, 2020. At the time the bill was signed into law, $130 billion of PPP funding remained to be allocated.
The Trump administration enacted several other measures to provide fiscal stimulus. On March 13, 2020, Trump announced a state of emergency that freed up $50 billion in emergency aid for states, cities, and territories.
On March 17, 2020, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin extended the deadline for paying both individual and business taxes to July 15, an effort which he claimed would free up $300 billion in liquidity. On March 20, 2020, Mnuchin also extended the date to file taxes to July 15.
On March 20, 2020, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suspended student loan payments and interest accrual for federally held student debt. This suspension of payments and interest was extended through Sept. 30, 2020, as part of the CARES Act. On Jan. 20, 2021, the Department of Education announced it would extend federally held student loan forbearance again through Sept. 30, 2021.
Shortly after the passing of the American Rescue Plan, on March 30, 2021, the Department of Education announced the expansion of its student loan relief to include defaulted privately held loans as well. Just like federal student loans, there will be a 0% interest rate and a pause of collections that will affect 1.14 million borrowers who defaulted on a privately-held loan under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program since March 13, 2020.
On April 19, 2020, the Trump administration said businesses could delay payment of tariffs for 90 days if they have suspended operations during March and April and if they “demonstrate significant financial hardship.”
On Aug. 10, 2020, President Trump signed four executive actions to provide additional COVID-19 relief. The first action created the Lost Wages Assistance Program (LWA), which would roll out a $400-per-week payment to those currently receiving more than $100 a week in unemployment benefits. The plan called for $300 to be paid by the federal government and $100 by state governments. The program was retroactive through Aug. 1, when the $600 unemployment benefits expansion ended. The program was set to last through Dec. 6, or until the funds are exhausted, and the benefits were meant to be available immediately, according to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
The program was to be funded by up to $44 billion in money taken from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund.65 President Trump said the states should use the remaining aid given to them under the federal CARES Act to fund these payments, even though many states had already allocated these funds and state budgets are under intense strain.
Because the president cannot expand unemployment insurance without congressional approval, states had to scramble to build new systems to handle the LWA benefits. The program ultimately had enough money for each state to pay out for six weeks, although the end date of the program varies depending on when the state began making payments.
A second executive action extended the moratorium on payments and interest accrual on student loans held by the government until the end of 2020. The moratorium was previously set to expire on September 30, 2020. It was once again extended to Sept. 31, 2021, by the Department of Education.
A third executive action instructed the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help provide temporary assistance to homeowners and renters. The action directed HUD to “promote the ability of renters and homeowners to avoid eviction or foreclosure.”
The order did not extend the CARES Act’s federal eviction moratorium, which expired July 24. The executive action also instructed the Federal Housing Financing Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to “review all existing authorities and resources that may be used to prevent evictions and foreclosures for renters and homeowners.”
A fourth executive action deferred payroll taxes for Americans earning less than $100,000 per year for the period from Sept. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020. The taxes will still need to be paid back in 2021.
On Sept. 1, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an emergency eviction moratorium through Dec. 31, 2020. The moratorium was extended through March 31, 2021, and then again through June 30, 2021. The goal was to keep millions of Americans sheltering in their current homes instead of moving, thus helping to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. It applied to people who met five conditions:
People who met these conditions were to write a signed declaration that this was the case and give it to their landlord. It also did not apply to hotels, motels, and Airbnb rentals. Renters could still be evicted for other reasons, such as criminal behavior or destruction of property. Notably, the order only delayed rent payments and did not compensate landlords for delayed rent. It also did not prevent landlords from applying penalties or interest of any amount due in January, nor did it state limits on what those could be. It’s possible some tenants may be required to pay all rent plus interest and penalties in January. The law included significant penalties for landlords who ignore the order, which took effect on Sept. 4, 2020.
On Dec. 21, 2020, the U.S. Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus and relief bill attached to the main omnibus budget bill. President Trump signed the bill on Dec. 27, 2020, but he urged Congress to increase the direct stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000. Its contents, as of Dec. 28, included:
On Jan. 20, 2021, President Biden signed several executive orders including the following relating to stimulus and relief measures:
On Feb. 16, 2021, President Biden extended the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions on homeowners with government-backed loans. He also extended the enrollment period for mortgage payment forbearance for government-backed loans until June 30, 2021 and extended the period of mortgage payment forbearance available to borrowers who entered forbearance before June 30, 2021, by up to six months.
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, implementing a $1.9 trillion package of stimulus and relief proposals. Some facets of the plan, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, had to be excluded in order to pass the plan using budget reconciliation, a Senate procedure that allows bills to be passed using a simple majority. Roughly $350 billion of the total funding will go to state and local governments. The key points of the plan as it was passed are the following: