Following a week of frantic negotiations, Congress passed an unprecedented spending bill to provide $2.1 trillion in assistance to Americans and businesses affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday and passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday in a voice vote. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.
The Jewish community, specifically its nonprofit sector, is expected to receive assistance from the legislation.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), which has been helping Jewish communal organizations and individuals navigate the crisis, applauded the bill.
“It’s very significant, and it will benefit the Jewish community in many ways, and we’re very appreciative of the work that the Congress did,” JFNA president and CEO Eric Fingerhut told JNS.
Individuals earning up to $75,000 annually and heads of household (often, single parents with children) earning up to $112,500 annually would receive a $1,200 check, while couples earning up to $150,000 annually would earn $2,400. Those who exceed the income caps would have their benefits reduced by $5 for every $100 in additional income. Those ineligible to receive a check would be individuals who earn at least $99,000; $146,500 for heads of household; and $198,000 for couples.
While large companies, such as airlines, are set to receive $500 billion in loans and other investments, small businesses and nonprofits, including those that receive Medicaid funding, would receive $349 billion in forgivable loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). This would include $10 billion through the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) in which nonprofits and small businesses with no more than 500 employees would be eligible.
The provision to allow nonprofits that receive Medicaid funds to receive loans was a “huge development for the Jewish community because all of our human-services agencies do receive Medicaid, as well as philanthropic support,” said Fingerhut.
The EIDL funds, which can’t have loans that exceed 4 percent, would convert into grants that don’t need to be repaid for money spent on payroll, mortgage payments, rent, utilities or other items through the end of June. They cover annual wages up to $100,000. The grants would be reduced when workers are terminated.
Most Jewish nonprofits will be eligible under EIDL, as the vast majority of them have fewer than 500 employees, according to Fingerhut. Those that do, such as a handful of Jewish health-care facilities, would be eligible for the funds that big businesses are set to receive.
Nonprofits would also receive unemployment insurance expansion, employee retention tax credits, payroll tax-credit deferrals, assistance for nonpublic schools and FEMA disaster loans.
Additionally, hospitals and community health centers, including Jewish ones, would get $100 billion.
Some $65 million is set to be allocated for housing for seniors and those with disabilities, including a number of those linked to the Jewish community.
Moreover, the bill would allow individuals to deduct up to $300 in charitable contributions only made this year even if they do not itemize on their federal tax returns; usually, taxpayers must itemize in order to receive such a deduction. The 2020 tax break would be in addition to the standard deduction under the 2017 tax law ($12,400 for individuals and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly).
More than three-dozen nonprofits, including JFNA, sent a letter last week to congressional offices, requesting $60 billion in relief funding due to the outbreak.
On Wednesday, Trump held a conference call with more than 140 leaders of nonprofit organization, when he “thanked the nonprofits for their tireless acts of service to Americans in need, such as delivering meals to children and hosting blood drives and donation drives for medical supplies,” according to a readout from the White House.
Fingerhut stressed the importance of nonprofits, including Jewish ones, in American society.
“Just as the country doesn’t want [to lose] its major industries, so it does not want to lose its world-class nonprofit infrastructure and the Jewish community is at the front of that world-class status,” he told JNS.
‘Continuing to work with our elected leaders’
The Orthodox Union expressed appreciation, but also some criticism, in response to the bill.
“As the coronavirus pandemic strikes communities across the United States, we are grateful that the Senate passed this legislation, and we are particularly thankful to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the primary architects of the CARES Act, who ensured it contains important aid to nonprofit organizations,” said OU executive director for public policy Nathan Diament in a statement. “We also thank [Oklahoma Republican] Senator [James] Lankford and [Democratic Delaware] Senator [Chris] Coons and other legislators who tirelessly advocated to ensure that it contained provisions to help the charitable sector.”
“At the same time, we are disappointed that Congress did not include a number of provisions in earlier drafts that would have offered much greater and much needed assistance to nonprofits, and those we serve, especially during this uncertain and precarious time,” continued Diament. “We are committed to continuing to work with our elected leaders so that we can serve as a safety net for those who most need us.”
Duvi Honig, founder and CEO of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Congress, an umbrella organization of various-sized businesses based in New York and New Jersey—two of the hardest-hit areas in the United States by the outbreak—told JNS that Jewish businesses, like others throughout the United States, “are in a standstill,” particularly kosher establishments, including caterers. “Many restaurants I know are struggling in debt and under no circumstances will be approved for any loan, even from the SBA.”
Moreover, many Orthodox Jewish families stand to not benefit from the U.S. spending package considering that they “tend to be large, with five to eight children or more being the norm. An Orthodox lifestyle is costly, especially considering religious-school tuition, which runs anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per child,” according to Honig.
“The stimulus income threshold of $150,000 a couple does not account for the number of children in the household,” he continued. “So a couple with eight children that earned $151,000 in 2018 starts seeing a reduction in benefits and receives nothing if they earned over $198,000 two years ago.”
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism applauded the SBA part of the bill that would aid nonprofits.
While the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism declined to talk about the specifics of the bill, RAC director Rabbi Jonah Pesner told JTA, “We’re not separate. There will be Jewish people who get fired, Jewish small businesses who will go under, Jewish elderly, Jewish people with disabilities. This is about the Jewish community and about the other. There’s no dichotomy.”
Fingerhut said that ahead of Passover, which begins at sundown on April 8 and ends at nightfall on April 16, the legislation “will give people reassurance … that everything that could possibly be done is being done.”
“It won’t change the fact that we’re all in our own homes, we’re not together, we’re not traveling, we’re not sharing our seders,” he continued. “But I do think people will see the response of the community.”
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