What the new $900B federal COVID-19 relief bill could mean for Johnson County — if it’s not vetoed

Johnson County vaccines

The COVID-19 relief fund includes support for health agencies and vaccine distribution. Above, a healthcare worker holds a tray of COVID-19 vaccines. Photo courtesy KU Health System.

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It’s still too early to know precisely how much money could begin flowing into Johnson County as a result of the recently passed federal COVID-19 relief fund.

And the uncertainty has been heightened by President Trump’s threat Tuesday night to veto the bill.

Still, if the measure ultimately is signed into law, the county’s share of the $900 billion bill is bound to affect the pocketbooks of most residents, even if indirectly.

The long-debated bill negotiated by Democrats and Republicans puts more money into unemployment benefits, rental assistance, schools, child care and businesses. And while county officials don’t yet know exactly how much will be available locally, one immediate effect will be to extend the deadline for spending federal funds from the first coronavirus relief package passed in March, also known as the CARES Act.

Spending deadline extended

The previous Dec. 31 spending deadline had been a concern for local leaders, who raced through the summer to set up infrastructure to spend it on such things as internet connectivity, rental assistance and aid to businesses.

The deadline contained in the new bill would extend the time local governments have to spend their funds to Dec. 31, 2021, Deputy Johnson County Manager Maury Thompson confirmed.

The federal government has sent previous pandemic relief money through a variety of channels.

Some of the earlier distribution came to the states, which then sent them on to the counties. Johnson County developed a large and comprehensive set of priorities and programs for spending. Some of it also went on to cities.

More direct payments to states and local governments was not a part of the new bill, and local leaders are awaiting clarification on their role in spending the newest federal pay-out.

Direct payments to individuals being debated

Arguably the most talked about part of the new bill would put $600 in the pockets of individuals earning up to $75,000 and $1,200 for couples earning up to $150,000, with payments tapering off for earners higher than that.

The original pandemic relief package passed in March sent $1,200 direct payments to most Americans. But direct payments to individuals is a sticking point in the new bill.

Defying his own party’s leadership, President Trump urged Congress to pass a bill that includes $2,000 direct payments and threatened to veto the bill as it currently stands. The New York Times reports Democrats now plan to introduce a stand-alone bill on Christmas Eve that would provide $2,000 direct payments.

So, stay tuned.

Assistance for unemployment, housing and schools

The new bill, as it currently stands, would also provide money for people struggling with housing and unemployment.

There will be $25 billion available nationally for rental assistance and a moratorium on evictions will be extended by a month to Jan. 31. Supplemental unemployment payments of $300 will resume, but that is only half of the $600 a week assistance payments seen in the first relief bill.

Schools and colleges are also set to get some money, with $54 billion earmarked for K-12 schools and $22.7 billion to colleges.

Another $10 billion is set aside for child care assistance.

The Paycheck Protection Program, which provided loans for small businesses, will also continue with $284 billion more in loans administered by financial institutions.

Vaccine support

Support for health agencies and vaccine distribution is also a part of the bill.

Public health agencies would get $8.75 billion, with $4.5 billion going to state, local and tribal public health departments and $300 million for vaccine in high-risk, underserved areas.

Another $25.4 billion will go to support testing and contract tracing.

Congress also put a ban on surprise medical bills as part of the overall package.