WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a massive spending bill, intended to offset the health and economic damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, that will send direct payments to millions of Texans and billions of dollars in aid for state and local governments and schools.
Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?
Unemployment benefits in Texas are typically available to people who have been laid off or who lost wages for reasons unrelated to misconduct. Federal legislation has temporarily made many more workers who’ve been affected by COVID-19 eligible for unemployment assistance than would be otherwise under Texas law. Read more about who qualifies here.
What if I can’t get through to the Texas Workforce Commission?
Use the internet when possible. If you don’t have access to the internet or need to talk to someone, you can try calling 800-939-6631, the TWC’s main line for unemployment claims. Request a call through the live chat function on the TWC website. Some Texans said they’ve successfully connected with the TWC through contacts they found in Facebook groups and on Reddit. Email the unemployment ombudsman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more tips on contacting TWC here.
How does the latest coronavirus relief package affect benefits?
A $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law March 11 extends two pandemic unemployment programs into the first week of September. It also extended a federal benefit that has added an extra $300 a week to all unemployment claims. And the new law includes a tax break for anybody who has received $10,000 in unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Read more here.
What is a work search requirement?
Most people must show that they are taking steps to return to work to continue receiving unemployment benefits. Your local workforce area gets to determine the number of searches required where you live based on local COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations. You can check how many searches are required in your county here.
What if my unemployment claim is denied?
If you disagree with a decision the Texas Workforce Commission has made about your unemployment claim, you can file an appeal. According to the TWC, you must appeal in writing within 14 calendar days of when the agency sent your determination letter. Read more about filing an appeal here.
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The signature came one day after it passed the House.
Known as the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion bill shores up and builds upon previous COVID-19 spending bill provisions. But while the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that passed almost a year ago had significant buy-in from both parties, the American Rescue Plan passed solely with Democratic votes in both the House and Senate. The bill passed the House with all Republicans voting against it, and all but one House Democrat supported the plan. Within the Texas delegation, the vote was party line. On Saturday, both of the state's Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted against the bill.
The bill's scope is sweeping. Broadly speaking, it will distribute stimulus checks as large as $1,400 to millions of Americans, another $350 billion to cities and states that experienced declines in tax revenue and increases in expenses, and $130 billion toward education. The bill also funds an additional $300 in unemployment payments per week until early September.
But within that massive $1.9 trillion sum, there are also specific provisions to financially bolster American farmers, the food supply, imperiled restaurants, vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, medical supplies, the health care workforce, refitting public elementary and secondary schools to mitigate transmission of the virus, students who've experienced a lag in learning over the last year, childhood and adult nutrition, homeowners and renters, national endowments for the arts and humanities, child care, funeral assistance, veterans, airlines, airports, nursing facilities, aid for state and local governments, and support for union pensions.
It also includes an expanded child income tax credit that, starting this summer, could allow for the distribution to parents of checks to of up to $250 dollars per month for school-age children and $300 per month for children under 5. Researchers have estimated that it could lift around 40% of children out of poverty.
U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, touted his contributions into the bill of money for small-business lending and toward enforcing fair housing.
“When the deadly novel coronavirus reached the United States more than a year ago, many of us would have never imagined the severe health and economic toll it would take on our nation," he said in a news release. "However, it has been and continues to be my priority to ensure all my constituents – including those who have suffered from contracting the virus themselves or losing a loved one to it, job loss, inadequate access to health care, hunger, risk of eviction or foreclosure, or business closure – receive the necessary relief to weather and recover from this storm."
Republicans have opposed the bill, however, saying that it's too broad and includes massive amounts of spending that is permanent and not directly related to the coronavirus. They blamed Democrats for the lack of GOP support for the legislation.
"It's because this is not COVID relief. It's a $2 trillion blue-state boondoggle and a Trojan horse for their reckless partisan policies," U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock, said on the House floor. "It's because Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi is throwing your tax dollars at Democrat cronies like a float captain throws beads at a Mardi Gras parade."
The House passed a previous version of this bill in late February, but Democratic moderates in the Senate were successful in scaling back the legislation. The original House bill also included a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled out that provision.
Like most of the major spending and tax cut bills passed by both parties over the last decade, the American Rescue Plan is expected to contribute to the federal deficit. Most economists argue, however, in favor of some deficit spending during periods of economic distress.