Congress Passes ‘Down Payment’ on COVID Relief

A COVID relief package passed in the waning hours of the 116th U.S. Congress could deliver a significant boost to Michigan school districts looking to pay for additional costs of operating amid a global pandemic – if President Trump signs the bill into law.

According to MEA Economist Tanner Delpier, the median Michigan district should receive an additional $650 per pupil. About 270 districts can expect to get more than $1,000 extra per pupil. Preliminary figures are estimates, Delpier notes.

The stimulus bill of about $900 billion was significantly less than what Democrats wanted but significantly more than Republicans wanted, with about $82 billion for education.

Yet NEA has found the nine-month wait for Congressional action on COVID relief culminated in inadequate legislation, setting the stage for still more human suffering and economic hardship.

“Let us be very clear, this bill can be seen as nothing more than a down payment in doing what is truly necessary to fully address the needs of students, educators and their families,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.

An NEA analysis reveals the coronavirus legislation helps some and not others:

  • It includes $82 billion to help equip schools and college campuses to reopen safely and address budget shortfalls, with $2.75 billion earmarked for private schools with restrictions and public accountability requirements.
  • Despite evidence of as many as 16 million students without access to the Internet, GOP leaders refused to provide billions in necessary funding via the successful E-Rate program to help ensure students forced to learn remotely can do so.
  • For higher education, the bill removes a prohibition on Pell Grants for incarcerated students and restores eligibility to students defrauded by their college; it also includes a simplification of the financial aid (FAFSA) form and financial aid calculations that may expand Pell eligibility. But it fails to extend the moratorium on payments and interest accrual for student-loan borrowers, which will expire on January 31, 2021.
  • It includes $13 billion to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15 percent as well as Pandemic EBT for families with children in childcare programs and meals for seniors.
  • Tax credits for employers that provide paid emergency sick leave is included, but this is a half-measure at best that does not guarantee workers who are sick or exposed can safely stay home without losing pay.

Enhanced unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year are expected to be renewed at the level of $300 per week—half the current amount.

The agreement also includes stimulus checks of up to $600 per person —half the amount provided by the CARES Act in March—for individuals earning $75,000 per year and married couples who earn up to $150,000, with $600 more for each dependent under 18 living in the same household.

An important omission from the stimulus bill is any aid for state and local governments to avoid laying off educators, firefighters and other essential public servants.

The CARES Act appropriated $150 billion for state and local governments last year which enabled Michigan to balance its budget and slightly increase funding for education rather than the dire funding cuts that had been predicted earlier in the summer.

Like our NEA leadership, Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and President-Elect Joe Biden have emphasized that this stimulus is a “down payment” and that more money will be needed in 2021.

Despite earlier indications from the White House that the bill would be signed into law, that was put in some doubt Tuesday night when President Trump attacked the compromise legislation, which passed the U.S. House 359 to 53 and the U.S. Senate 92-6.

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