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What the $900 Billion Federal Pandemic Aid Deal Means for New Yorkers

People lined up early in the morning outside the Masbia food pantry in Borough Park to pick up food ahead of Thanksgiving.
People lined up early in the morning outside the Masbia food pantry in Borough Park to pick up food ahead of Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, 2020.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

The $900 billion federal pandemic relief bill expected to be passed by Congress on Monday will provide a major — if temporary — boost to New Yorkers grappling with unemployment and food and housing insecurity.

There’s at least $4 billion on the way to help keep the trains and buses running. And while the city and state won’t reap any direct aid, there’s new leeway to use funds allocated under the CARES relief bill passed in March to balance current fiscal year budgets without major spending cuts.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Sunday night characterized the deal he helped negotiate over recent fraught weeks as providing much-needed “emergency aid” with tough times destined to drag on.

But, he added, “Anyone who thinks this is enough does not know what’s going on in America and has not looked into the eyes of a small business owner, a restaurant owner losing their business. We must do more under [incoming] President [Joe] Biden.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The aid package arrives as the city’s hard-hit economy has stalled. Only about 10,000 jobs were added in November, the lowest total since the recovery began in April. Moody’s Analytics recently reported that New York City has seen the biggest job decline between February and November of the 82 metropolitan areas it tracks.

The package also follows the recent shutdown of indoor dining and comes as potential new restrictions on New York’s in-person economy loom after a rise of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates in the city.

Here’s a look at what the compromise aid plan means for New Yorkers:

Unemployment Help Extended

Slightly more than 1 million New York City residents receiving jobless benefits will get an additional $300 a week for 11 weeks until mid-March.

While some people are collecting the maximum of $515 a week, the average payment under traditional unemployment insurance is $286 a week. That means the average person will see their checks more than double.

People walk by shuttered storefronts at The Hub in the South Bronx Oct. 9, 2020.
People walk by shuttered storefronts at The Hub in the South Bronx, Oct. 9, 2020.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

The bill also extends to mid-March pandemic unemployment assistance for gig workers, freelancers and those working on contracts. Payments had been set to expire at the end of the month.

Recipients would also receive the additional $300 a week — more than doubling the average weekly payment of $259.

New Household Payments

The second round of direct payments to households would provide $600 per adult and $600 per child for those earning $75,000 or less.

Figures released earlier this year by the city’s Independent Budget Office suggest about 2 million New York City taxpayers would qualify for the full payment. The amounts will be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 for a single person and not be available for anyone making more than $99,000.

Families where one member is documented with a Social Security number and one is undocumented would be eligible for partial payments, unlike in the first aid package.

Food Stamps and Rental Assistance

The bill contains $25 billion in rental assistance and $13 billion for food stamps and child hunger programs.

No details were available on how the rent money would be disbursed, although a state program to provide relief — criticized for not reaching many in need — is now being expanded to help a wider range of tenants.

A bedsheet hung in Crown Heights, Brooklyn speaks to tough economic times during the coronavirus outbreak, May 29, 2020.
A bed sheet hung in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, offers a message to the governor.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

It also wasn’t immediately clear whether the money to combat hunger would be used to expand eligibility for food stamps, which could lessen the long lines at food pantries and lessen the burden of spending entire days searching for food. The city’s food pantries have fed 65% more people this year than in 2019, according to Hunger Free America’s annual survey.

Mass Transit Boost

The bill also includes money for mass transit systems. Schumer said Sunday night the bill contained more than $4 billion for the MTA, an amount that would put off draconian service cuts that had been slated for next year. Still, it appeared unlikely there would be much left for repairs and planned major capital projects.

Small Business and Performing Arts Aid

Two hard-hit groups will receive aid in the new bill. Almost $300 billion is allocated nationally for another round of Payroll Protection Program loans for small businesses. Plus, a new tax credit for the money reimbursed will make the loans even more attractive.

The Cort Theatre in Times Square, July 10, 2020.
The Cort Theatre in Times Square, July 10, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The now dormant theater and overall tourism sector in the city will receive a shot in the arm with a piece of $15 billion allocated nationwide for performance venues, independent movie theaters and other cultural institutions.

State and City Budget Balancers

While both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio harshly criticized Washington last week for not including direct federal aid to states and cities, both were given the ability to spend the money they received under the aid first package next year rather than return unused funds on Dec. 31.

While the exact amount the state and the city will be able to move into 2021 was not immediately known, it is expected to be substantial.

In the meantime, both the state and city budgets for the current fiscal year appear to be balanced with only modest cuts.

State tax revenues are now expected to be $4 billion more than expected when the budget was passed in early April — half the $8 billion hole in the budget for the year ending March 31. Actions to save money on state operations could have saved another $1 billion.

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks about the Coronavirus at about a Midtown press conference with Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks about the Coronavirus at a Midtown news conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, March 2, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

While Cuomo has been withholding 20% of state payments to local governments and nonprofits, last week he released $1.5 billion to those with cash flow problems and now seems likely to be able to send the rest of the money.

With no state budget cuts, labor unions deferring nearly $1 billion in payments for a year and tax revenues $1 billion ahead of plan, the city appears to be on track to balance this year’s budget for the year ending June 30 as well.

But the state budget deficit for the 2021-2022 fiscal year could hit $12 billion, experts estimate, while the city admits to an almost $4 billion hole.

Whether federal help will be available depends in large part on what kind of third aid package the incoming Biden administration proposes — and whether the Democrats win the Senate races in Georgia and wrest control of the body from Republicans, who oppose such assistance.

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