On March 6, the U.S. Senate passed the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” to provide additional relief to Americans from the ongoing impact of COVID-19. You’re surely aware of the bill’s best-known provision: the additional stimulus payments of $1,400 made directly to qualifying individuals.

But the new bill contains other benefits and changes that can help you and your family. The bill will provide North Carolina with almost $9 billion in aid to state and local governments.  That means some changes are coming from the federal government, and some from the state.

The highlights include:

Unemployment benefits. Worried about whether benefits will be enough to help you pay the bills?  The relief act extends the $300 per week supplemental aid for individuals claiming unemployment. More individuals are now eligible for unemployment insurance until September 6, 2021, which will come as a relief.

Many people are concerned about taxes they might owe on unemployment benefits. The relief act allows the first $10,200 you receive for unemployment benefits to be tax-free.

Emergency rental assistance program. In December 2020, Congress created the Emergency Rental Assistance program, allowing renters directly impacted by the pandemic to apply for funds to cover rent payments, utility and home energy bills, and other related housing expenses, such as internet.  

Renters can apply for three months of rental expenses but might be eligible for certain extensions due to the applicant’s circumstances. The new relief act provides additional funding for this assistance program, given that many people are still unable to afford their rent and housing expenses. 

Under this program, federal funding is allocated to state and local governments, which have set up local programs that individuals can apply to. If you’re in need of help, learn more here and here.

Increased child tax credit.  If you have children, pay attention to this news.  The federal tax credit is now $3,000 per qualifying child ages 6 to 17, compared to $2,000 per child previously.  (Seventeen-year-olds were excluded before but were added for 2021.)   The child tax credit for each child under age 6 has been boosted to $3,600 per qualifying child, versus $2,000 previously. 

The changes aim to reduce child poverty rates across the country.  Almost 2.1 million adults and 2.5 million children may benefit from the increased credits, according to The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. 

Money for capital projects.  In addition to funds directed to local and state governments, North Carolina will receive a separate allocation of $277 million for capital projects under the relief act.  These are usually large-scale investment projects that have significantly high costs and take anywhere from months to years to complete. Think new roads and highways, infrastructure repairs and renovations, and other similar projects which bring long-term benefits to cities and states. 

Support for small businesses.  More money is going into the Paycheck Protection Program, which has allowed small businesses to continue paying their employees and maintain operations during the pandemic.  Restaurants will get support they need with a new $26.8 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. 

Many organizations have made efforts to support their communities by improving access to COVID-19 pandemic assistance programs and resources. A new Community Navigator pilot program will offer grants to these organizations that have made it their mission to help others during the pandemic.

Supporting schools and educational systems. Schools have faced serious challenges during COVID-19, with many struggling to provide enough resources for students.  Schools and school districts can use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act on teacher and staff salaries, expenses related to bringing students back to in-person learning, summer and after-school programs that many parents rely on, and more.  

In North Carolina, the governor has proposed a new 2021 budget that includes 10% raises for K-12 teachers implemented over time.  It also increases the budget for more children to attend preschool, and adds more medical and mental health professionals in school to support students during this difficult time.

Funding Public Health.  A portion of the relief act assists public health agencies in fighting the pandemic. These agencies have helped ensure that Americans have free access to the vaccine and have provided crucial information about COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) will receive funds to continue its efforts in testing, vaccinating, and providing other public health resources. 

The relief act specifically provides funds for rural hospitals and providers. Other changes  expand the Affordable Care Act by making its insurance policies more affordable and provide states with incentives to expand Medicaid.

The next step after the American Rescue Plan Act is new infrastructure spending, which is currently being negotiated in Congress.  The Rescue Plan’s passage, and discussion of further funds to rebuild our infrastructure, brings some hope that we will begin to bounce back from the impact of this pandemic. 

Sara Shariff is an attorney with Hull & Chandler in Charlotte who practices business law and estate planning law. Her fields of expertise include business formation, contracts, corporate transitions and mergers and acquisitions.

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