On Wednesday, March 10, I voted to pass the latest emergency relief package and, the following day, President Biden signed it into law. The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion package that will bring urgent relief that our district needs to not just survive this pandemic but to finally begin healing our communities from the pain of this global pandemic. I've heard from so many of you who have told me this relief will mean the difference between being able to pay rent and coming home to an eviction notice. It will mean not worrying that your utilities will be shut off in the middle of a pandemic. It will mean having enough money to feed your children and yourself. As a single mom who has lived paycheck to paycheck, I know these worries all too well.
SURVIVAL CHECKS: The American Rescue plan will put money in the pockets of St. Louisians, providing $1,400 in survival checks for individuals making under $75,000, single parents making under $112,500, and joint filers making under $150,000. To estimate how much money you will receive in your stimulus checks, click here.If you have direct deposit set up with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may have already received the check - if not, you should very shortly. If you receive your tax refunds via check or prepaid debit card, those should arrive in the mail over the next few weeks.
How to access your check: This payment will be sent to you via check or direct deposit from the IRS. You do not need to take any action to get this payment, but if you are having difficulty receiving it, please take a look at this resource guide or contact my office for assistance.
We also worked hard to secure so many more key provisions that ensure direct relief. Here are a few features of the plan:
- Stopping the spread of COVID-19: More than $70 billion to fund a federal vaccine distribution program that is centered in equity and expands testing, contact tracing, and virus mitigation.
- Expanded Tax Credits: Expands the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit and makes both fully refundable for 2021. Benefits under the expanded CTC will increase from the current $2,000 per child to up to $3,600 per child under 6 ($3,000 for children ages 6-17). Checks will be based on 2019 or 2020 tax returns and sent out monthly starting July 1st.
- Unemployment assistance: Federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week have been extended through September 6th.
- Saving our small businesses: $7.25 billion nationally in small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.
- Ensuring safe housing: $4.75 billion nationally in supportive services, affordable housing and non-congregate shelter space for the unhoused, $22.5 billion in emergency rental and utility assistance, and $10 billion to support homeowners.
- Food Security: Extends SNAP maximum benefits by 15 percent (through September 30, 2021) and allocates $800 million nationally for WIC to support low-income women and infants.
- Resources for Schools: Provides nearly $170 billion to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools and colleges and universities, of which $637 million will go to institutions of higher education across Missouri, $2 billion for public schools across the state, and $196 million for St. Louis Public Schools. Nearly $724 million will go to support state-based childcare centers and providers, and $17 million will support our Head Start programs. The bill also includes a provision that will make any future student loan debt cancellation tax free.
- Expands Health Coverage: More than 4.5 million more people will gain coverage under this law, specifically silver plans in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace will be capped at 8.5 percent of eligible individuals' incomes to ensure people and families aren't overburdened by health care costs. People who are out of work and covered by COBRA, wouldn't have to pay a premium. Additionally, any person who receives unemployment at any point in 2021 is now eligible for silver plans under the ACA for $0 premium.
Below are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding the American Rescue Plan:
What's happening with the child tax credit?
If you earn less than $75,000 (or your household earns less than $150,000) you'll receive $3,600 for each child under age 6 and $3,000 tax for each child aged 7-17. If your income exceeds that threshold, the credit will be reduced by $50 for every additional $1,000 of income. Individuals earning $95,000 or joint filers earning $170,000 are not eligible for the tax credit.
The tax credit applies to your 2021 tax year, but the IRS will advance part of the credit in the forms of checks that will be delivered or direct deposited as early as July. These checks will continue at semi-regular intervals through December. The remaining amount will be credited against your taxes when you file next year.
The child tax credit is available to those living in U.S. territories. It is also entirely fully refundable and doesn't require an individual to be employed to qualify.
Am I eligible for the child tax credit if I'm having a baby this year?
Yes. The bill includes a provision that allows any person who gives birth in 2021 to receive the third $1,400 stimulus check for that child after filing their tax return in 2022.
Are adult dependents eligible for stimulus checks?
Unlike previous payments, adult dependents (those who are 19-24, retirees, or adults with disabilities who rely on another person for more than half of their expenses) are now eligible for payments, as long as the filer who claims them as a dependent meets the eligibility requirements listed above.
The check will be sent directly to the filer who claims the dependent, not the dependent.
Previously, only dependents under 17 were eligible.
Are mixed status or undocumented families eligible for a stimulus check?
In cases of mixed status families where only one spouse has a Social Security number, the family would get a payment of $1,400 for the spouse with a number, plus $1,400 for each dependent who also has a Social Security number.
If both parents are undocumented but their dependent is a U.S. citizen, then that dependent does qualify for a check - as long as their parents filed their taxes with individual tax identification numbers (ITINs).
What tax return year is the government using to determine eligibility for a stimulus check?
Under the bill, the IRS is directed to make payments initially based on people's 2019 tax returns or their 2020 returns if they've already been filed.
What if I never received my first or second stimulus check?
If you were eligible to receive the first or second stimulus check and did not receive it, you must claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when you file your 2020 taxes. This form is for paper filers. E-filers should have the option in the software they used to file.
Are stimulus checks tax free?
Yes, stimulus checks are not considered taxable income; therefore, they will not be taxed and also will not affect your eligibility for any federal government assistance or benefit program.
Will unemployment assistance be extended? Do I have to pay taxes on my unemployment benefits?
The current $300/ week federal benefit will be extended through early September. The first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020 have also now been designated tax free for households making less than $150,000.
How can I access the rental aid in the bill?
Applying for rental assistance varies from state to state. The state of Missouri has a few options.
The State Assistance for Housing Relief (SAFHR) Program provides rent and utility assistance for households affected by COVID-19. The program provides assistance statewide except for the following jurisdictions, which will administer their own funds separately: Clay, Greene, Jackson, Jefferson, and St. Louis Counties; and Kansas City and St. Louis City. Please click here for information about applying for assistance in those areas.
The Missouri Emergency Rental Arrears Program (ERAP) helps pay late rent specifically for people affected by job loss because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is a partnership of the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) and the Missouri Dept. of Social Services. For questions about ERAP, please contact MHDC through this web page: http://forms.mhdc.com/form-3050143/Contact-Us.
Check with the faith-based and non-profit relief agencies in your county. Many of them have access to funds through the CARES Act that reimburse them for relief activities associated with job loss due to COVID-19. These may include: Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, your local Community Action Agency, and other independent non-profits.
Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG): the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) oversees distribution of ESG funds to Missouri agencies. Many agencies receive funds for emergency homelessness prevention and short-term housing assistance. See this list of ESG funds awarded for 2021.
Missouri Housing Trust Fund (MHTF): MHDC also distributes funds from the Missouri Housing Trust fund, which provides some agencies with funds specifically for homeless prevention. See this list of MHTF funds awarded for 2020.
LIHEAP: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can make one-time payments to assist households to pay a current utility bill, or to avoid a utility shutoff.
Ameren Missouri offers the Clean Slate Program for customers impacted by COVID-19.
United Way 211 resource search site for western Missouri counties.
Also see the DMH Housing Resources web page for a variety of housing resources listed by type.
What support does this bill provide to small businesses?
The bill funds $15 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) grants, expands Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) eligibility and dedicates an additional $7.25 billion in funding and additional resources to help small and disadvantaged businesses navigate and access COVID relief programs. More information is available here.
The bill also specifically increased the funding allocation for a new program at the SBA to offer assistance to restaurants and bars hardest hit by the pandemic from $25 billion to $28.66 billion. $5 billion is set aside specifically for smaller establishments with less than $500,000 in 2019 annual revenue. During the first 21 days, applications from restaurants owned and operated by women, veterans, or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals will receive priority.
What help is available if a change in my employment is jeopardizing my health insurance?
If you choose to use COBRA to continue your existing employer-sponsored health coverage, the bill provides a 100% subsidy beginning in April through September 2021. For those six months, this subsidy covers all costs associated with COBRA, including the employer contribution. The only exception being individuals who are eligible for other group health coverage or Medicare - they are not eligible for the COBRA subsidy.
Additionally, this bill also provides subsidies if you buy health insurance off your state's Obamacare exchange. Any individual who receives unemployment at any point in 2021 can purchase an ACA silver plan for zero premium.
Additionally, under the bill, no one will have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for a silver plan in the ACA marketplaces. It also provides that individuals below 150% of the poverty level pay no premiums at all compared to 4% of their income currently.
How will this bill help schools reopen?
The American Rescue Plan makes nearly $130 billion immediately available to State Education Departments so they can: 1. Get schools open safely 2. Keep schools open safely 3. Make up for lost learning time. Superintendents, schools boards, the PTA, and others told Congress they need the American Rescue Act and we are listening to them.
The state of Missouri can expect $724 million to help parents pay for child care and another $17 million for the Head Start program. We know our students have suffered academically, socially and emotionally during this pandemic. This package will provide $2 billion for K through 12 education, and $637 million for higher education here in Missouri. Specifically in St. Louis City, we are estimated to receive $196 million for St. Louis Public Schools so our kids can safely learn in their classrooms.
What assistance is provided for people and families who are food insecure?
The American Rescue Plan makes several crucial investments to ensure people and families across the country, including children and seniors. Nationally, it provides access to the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program available for the duration of the health emergency, including through the summer, to allow families with children receiving school meals to purchase healthy food more easily during the pandemic; an extension to the 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for all participants through September 30, 2021, or about $28 per month per person, with $1.15 billion allocated for the cost of state administrative expenses; investments in technological improvements to expand access for families to use their SNAP benefits to purchase groceries safely online; nearly $880 million to deliver expanded access to more fruits and vegetables for moms and babies and investments in innovation to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and $37 million for senior nutrition through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
If you receive Food Stamp (SNAP) benefits, you can now buy groceries online using your EBT card through certain retailers. To find grocery retailers you can use, check the list for Missouri. More retailers may be added later.
If you or someone you know is in need of food assistance, please visit the St. Louis Area Food Bank's Find Food map to locate food resources near you. You can also contact the Food Bank at (314) 292-6262 for more information.
I know that this package is going to have a profound impact on our community — but I also know that this is not enough. Please know that I am fighting for long-term direct cash payments for individuals and families and guaranteed comprehensive health care for all. I am urgently pushing the Senate to end the filibuster so that we can raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour. I know how badly St. Louis needs student debt relief, and I will continue to work to cancel all student debt.
Our office is here to help you in accessing any and all resources that you may be entitled to. You can reach out to our district office directly at (314) 955-9980 and our team will be happy to assist you.