Congressional leaders have announced they have reached an agreement on a roughly $900-billion coronavirus relief and economic aid measure that includes payments to individuals, loans for small businesses, and funds for transportation workers and others.
The deal, which Democratic and Republican leaders announced the evening of Dec. 20, is expected to be combined with a wide-ranging $1.4-trillion appropriations package measure to keep government agencies, including their construction programs, operating through Sept. 30, 2021, the end of the current fiscal year.
Also part of the bipartisan, bicameral agreement is a new Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA which will authorize $9.9 billion in federal funds for 46 US Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
The text of the legislation and other specifics were not immediately available.
But among provisions that affect construction and engineering companies, the coronavirus relief portion of the envisioned package would include $284 billion to restart the Paycheck Protection Program of forgivable loans to small businesses, key lawmakers said.
The construction sector was one of the largest recipients of PPP loans. The program, established in the CARES Act enacted on March 26, expired on Aug. 8.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a top GOP negotiator, said in a statement that the legislation's “second draw” of the PPP would be aimed at “the hardest-hit small businesses.”
It was unclear whether the new deal also would make past PPP loans deductible from recipient companies’ income for tax purposes. Business groups have been lobbying for deductability.
According to a joint statement from the main Democratic negotiators—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—the coronavirus relief measure also provides $82 billion for colleges and schools, including funds for HVAC system repairs and replacement to help reduce coronavirus transmission.
Pelosi and Schumer added that the legislation includes $27 billion for "state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement
According to a summary of the legislation from Pelosi's office, the $27 billion includes $14 billion for transit, $10 billion for state highways, $2 billion for airports and airport concessionaires, $2 billion for the private motor coach, school bus and ferry industries and $1 billion for Amtrak.<.
The transportation funding is expected to go primarily for operational expenses, not infrastructure. The exception may be the highway funding.
The emerging final version of the legislation also drops items each party had pushed for. Republicans did not get a liability shield they had sought for companies to protect them from coronavirus-related lawsuits; Democrats were unable to gain the $160 billion in direct aid to state and local governments they had wanted.
But Pelosi said Democrats found other ways to help states and localities, including the addition of a one-year extension of the deadline for states and localities to use state and local aid provided in the CARES Act.
To head off a government shutdown, lawmakers prepared a two-day stopgap spending bill. It would succeed an earlier bill that was due to expire at midnight Dec. 20.
The extension, which the House passed within a couple of hours after the agreement on the coronavirus relief measure was announced, will give lawmakers and staff time to complete work on the pending legislative package and bring it to both chambers' floors for votes before the Christmas holidays.
In a joint press conference with Pelosi, Schumer said the new measure “is far from perfect.” But he added, “it is a strong shot in the arm to get things going.”
Pelosi said that Democrats were “very pleased” to see WRDA included in the legislation. She noted that the water resources bill is the product of bicameral, bipartisan negotiations and will be “a job creator.”
[See ENR 12/07/2020 story on WRDA bill here.]
Story updated on 12/21/2020 with details from Pelosi's office on breakdown of transportation funding (transit, highways, etc.)