By Jocelynn Moore
Following the November 2020 presidential election, NCRA Government Relations has been hard at work monitoring recent developments from Congress as they may affect our court reporter, captioner, scopist, and videographer members. In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided $1,200 direct stimulus payments to Americans and relief for small businesses, hospitals, and first responders. Following the passage of the CARES Act, Congress worked to pass several additional COVID-19 relief packages, but none reached the president’s desk. After nearly nine months of negotiations, Congress was successful in passing a second COVID-19 relief bill on Dec. 21, 2020. The $900 billion pandemic relief package was part of a larger, $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, H.R. 133: The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, that will allow the U.S. government to be funded through the 2021 fiscal year. The bill, which was signed by the president and became law on Dec. 27, 2020, contains central coronavirus relief provisions, including:
- Stimulus checks in the amount of $600 to single Americans with an income of $75,000 or less. The payments begin to phase out for those Americans making more than $75,000 and will cut off at those with an annual income of $87,000 or more. At the time this article was written, the IRS had almost completed distribution of these payments.
- $325 billion in relief to small businesses, $284 billion of which is for forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The bill also expands eligibility for PPP loans to 501(c)(6) associations that have 300 or fewer employees; that have spent 15 percent or less in lobbying activities and receipts; and that have also spent less than $1 million in lobbying activities. Organizations with 300 or fewer employees that can demonstrate a revenue decline of at least 25 percent in any quarter in 2020 can receive a second PPP loan of up to $2 million. At this time, the Small Business Administration has provided limited guidance on the qualifying conditions for 501(c)(6) eligibility and are allowing “lenders to rely on certifications of the borrower in order to determine eligibility.” The new deadline to apply for PPP loans is March 31, 2021. The loan forgiveness process will be simplified for loans of $150,000 or less.
- Extension of the payroll tax deferral from April 2021 to December 2021 — employers that used the payroll tax deferral executive order in September have until the end of 2021 to pay back any deferred taxes.
- Extension of federal unemployment benefits at a rate of $300 per week for 11 weeks until March 14, 2021. Those individuals still receiving benefits as of March 14 can continue to receive benefits until April 5 so long as the maximum of 11 weeks has not been reached.
- Extension of the federal eviction moratorium through the end of January 2021 and an additional $25 billion in rental assistance to qualified families who are unable to make current or past-due rent because of the pandemic.
- $69 billion for public health measures, including the procurement and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination and state test-and-trace programs.
Immediately following the passage of the pandemic relief bill, President Donald Trump and the U.S. House of Representatives called for an increase in direct stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000 per individual. The bill, the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help Act of 2020 or CASH Act of 2020, passed in the House of Representatives with a 275-134 vote. However, despite the bill’s passage in the House, the Senate refused a vote and the bill expired on Jan. 3, 2021, when the 117th Congress was sworn into office. Even though the increase in direct payments died in the Senate, it has been noted that the new 117th Congress will likely consider additional pandemic relief to individuals and small businesses.
The U.S. Senate
On Jan. 3, 2021, at noon, the 117th Congress was sworn into office, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. After the November 2020 general election, it was determined that Democrats would retain their control of the House of Representatives. However, Americans had to wait until Jan. 5, 2021, for the results of two Georgia runoff elections to determine whether Republicans would retain their control of the Senate. Incumbent Republican Senate candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were unsuccessful in defending their seats against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Both challengers won by very close margins, with Jon Ossoff securing 50.5 percent of the vote and Raphael Warnock securing 50.9 percent of the vote. As of this printing, it has been formally declared Democrats have gained control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi leading the House and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer leading the Senate.
Lastly, on Jan. 6, 2021, amid the tragic and unprecedented events that occurred at the U.S. Capitol building, the U.S. Senate certified the electoral votes from the November 2020 presidential election. Vice President Mike Pence officially certified and affirmed the election results of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. The two are set to be sworn in at noon on Jan. 20, 2021.
As we have seen, the ability to effect change does not stop with voting — it also extends to grassroots advocacy. NCRA Government Relations will continue to monitor new legislative developments as they arise in state legislatures across the country and in Congress. However, we cannot do this work alone. We also need the help of our hardworking state associations to keep us informed of any proposed or pending legislation. If your state legislature has introduced or will soon be introducing legislation that affects the court reporting and captioning industries, please forward the information to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to continuing our advocacy efforts and supporting members in this legislative session.
Jocelynn Moore is NCRA’s Director of Government Relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.