Deal Reached To Tack $900 Billion COVID-19 Relief Package on to Spending Bill
Plus: 1 in 5 prisoners has had COVID-19, Supreme Court won't stop undocumented immigrant exclusion from Census, and more...
A Sunday agreement between Democrats and Republicans in Congress will result in another round of relief checks going out and a continuation of expanded federal unemployment benefits. The new $900 billion bill is part of a larger $1.4 trillion spending bill to keep the federal government and its programs funded through next September.
Both the House and the Senate are expected to debate and vote on the COVID-19 relief package today.
The White House has already indicated that President Donald Trump will sign.
>@BenWilliamson45 on Covid relief bill: "President Trump has pushed hard for months to send Americans badly needed financial relief. We look forward to Congress sending a bill to his desk imminently for signature."
So, Trump will sign.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) December 21, 2020
"After months of impasse, negotiations came down to the wire as 12 million people are set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas," notes USA Today. "The deal includes restarting a $300 boost to the federal unemployment insurance benefit, extending eviction moratoriums for renters for an unspecified amount of time and a $600 direct payment to most Americans."
The one-time $600 checks would go to Americans making less than $75,000 a year.
The full text of the COVID-19 bill has not been released yet. But rumor has it that it may also expand a tax deduction for corporate meal expenses. From The Washington Post:
Since the 1980s, businesses have only been able to deduct 50 percent of their meal expenses off their federal taxes. A proposal championed by the White House and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) would increase that deduction to 100 percent allowing companies to deduct the full cost of a business meal off their federal taxes.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin included the meal deduction as a White House priority in negotiations, two people with knowledge of matter said. A Treasury Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
This many months into the pandemic, jails still aren't prioritizing people's health and continue to cause both harm to those incarcerated and wider community spread. "New cases show the protocols adopted by even the most proactive jails aren't working. Crowded jails, where social distancing is virtually impossible, are fueling outbreaks both inside and outside of their walls," writes Nathaniel Lash at The New York Times:
Today some jails are getting overcrowded even by normal standards. The system in Jacksonville, Fla., was over capacity before the pandemic. Despite an early drop in population, jails there now hold more inmates than they did a year ago.
Prisons don't seem to be doing much better. New data from The Marshall Project and the Associated Press found "one in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times as high as the general population," and "in some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected."
"I sort of think it should come down to A, build more prisons, which I hate that, or B, reform this system," said Aimee Wissman, a formerly incarcerated artist who is now with the Ohio Prison Arts Connection. "And I think it's unfair that, quote unquote, public safety has now trumped these human beings' right to public health."
The U.S. Supreme Court won't prevent undocumented immigrants from being excluded from 2020 census counts—for now. Eric Boehm explains:
The high court on Friday dismissed a challenge that sought to prevent the White House from excluding undocumented immigrants in the final numbers that will be used to apportion congressional seats. In an unsigned opinion, the court said the Trump v. New York case was "premature" and that plaintiffs lacked standing to seek a legal remedy because the census has not yet been finalized.
"This case is riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review," the justices wrote. They noted that Trump "has made clear his desire" to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census, but that the court would have to wait until the plan was implemented before determining its constitutionality.
• A new bill in the Senate would end the prohibition on incarcerated people receiving Pell Grants for higher education (a policy that's been in practice since 1994). The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act—from Sens. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii), Mike Lee (R–Utah), and Dick Durbin (D–Ill.)—is endorsed by prison groups and criminal justice reformers alike.
• The U.K. and South Africa are seeing a COVID-19 mutation that has scientists worried and officials enacting new shutdown orders.
• Jacob Sullum on the latest Trump attempts to conjure election fraud.
• If Arizona's "government restarts lethal injection executions, it has two choices, both of which involve breaking the law."