US stimulus saga: What could end up in new COVID-19 relief bill?

It’s America’s current long-running, political soap opera: when will the next round of United States coronavirus relief aid be approved, and what will the bill actually contain?

Congressional Democrats – and the administration of US President Donald Trump – have been sparring over the subject for months, while millions of struggling American families and small businesses anxiously await much-needed financial aid.

Many of the provisions from April’s $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expired at the end of July, and others that protect renters, student loan borrowers and the unemployed will expire at the end of December.

So what’s the holdup in approving more aid? Here’s the latest in the ongoing stimulus saga.

Psst, what do we mean by stimulus?

The coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses, halted travel and threw millions of people out of work, upending economies around the globe, including the US.

Until there is widespread immunity to the virus, it won’t be business as usual for many sectors. That’s where the government comes in. Lawmakers in the US Congress can stimulate the economy with cash in the form of financial lifelines to small businesses, direct-cash payments to households, enhanced unemployment benefits, debt relief and other measures to help people ride out the pandemic.

Put simply: throw money at the problem until things get better.

Money sounds good. So what’s the big debate?

Republicans and Democrats disagree over how much stimulus the US economy needs, what form it should take and how it should be doled out.

Generally speaking, Democrats want a bigger bill that offers supplementary federal unemployment benefits for workers – but it would cost $2.2 trillion.

Republicans want a pared-down version. The latest proposal from Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would come with a $916bn price tag.

Both proposals mean spending more when the US government already has a budget deficit of $3.3 trillion and the pandemic isn’t over yet.

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