Congress just passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. What’s in it for Utah?

The American Rescue Plan would direct billions of dollars to Utah families and state and local governments hit by the pandemic.

(Alex Brandon | AP) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., celebrate after signing the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, during an enrollment ceremony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Washington.

After weeks of negotiation, Congress on Wednesday gave final passage to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus assistance package — a sign that more help is on the way for struggling families, businesses and governments across the nation.

The bill, called the American Rescue Plan, passed on a party-line vote and drew opposition from Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation, whose members criticized Democrats for filling the bill with what they said was unnecessary spending.

“I voted against the $1.9 trillion #COVID19 package because it’s full of wasteful spending unrelated to urgent pandemic needs,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted last week when his chamber approved the bill. “Republicans, in good faith, sought to negotiate a compromise bill that would have targeted COVID assistance to those who really need it.”

Still, the bill as approved would commit billions of dollars to Utah’s state and local governments and billions more in direct assistance checks and an expanded child tax credit, according to estimates by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

What will the relief bill do for individual Utahns?

The new proposal calls for another round of stimulus payments that will likely arrive in Utahns’ bank accounts over the next couple of weeks. Utahns are collectively poised to get about $3.8 billion through these one-time payments, the Gardner Institute estimates, but the size of each person’s benefit will depend on income level.

Individuals who make $75,000 or less and couples whose combined income totals $150,000 or less will received the full payment of $1,400 per person. The benefits taper off for people whose incomes exceed these thresholds and vanish entirely for individuals who earn more than $80,000 per year and couples who bring in more than $160,000.

The bill’s help for parents will be particularly welcome in Utah, with its young population and larger-than-average families, said Phil Dean, public finance senior research fellow at the Gardner Institute. Eligible individuals will receive an additional $1,400 per dependent, and the legislation will also boost the per-child tax credit for one year — a benefit enhancement that could furnish Utah’s families with another $1.2 billion, according to Gardner Institute estimates.

The proposal will also extend the $300-per-week jobless benefit that the federal government is providing on top of traditional state unemployment payments. That extra $300 payment would have expired on Saturday but now runs through the first weekend in September, said Bethany Hyatt, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

But before beginning to issue these payments, Hyatt said, the workforce services agency is looking for direction from the federal treasury department about any changes to eligibility or other rules related to the jobless benefits.

“If there’s any lag in time during that process, most likely we would be able to do retroactive payments,” she said. “So if, for example, it takes a little bit longer to get that implementation done, people would still receive the benefits they’re eligible for.”

How about for Utah governments?

State and local government funding was one of the most hotly debated parts of the bill, which ended up setting aside about $350 billion for this aid. The Gardner Institute estimates that the state of Utah will receive about $1.5 billion of that total amount, while local governments in Utah will get another $1 billion of assistance.

However, Utah’s relatively strong economy actually put it at a disadvantage in claiming these dollars, since the federal funds were allocated in part based on how many unemployed workers each state has. Utah’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.1% in January, about half the national average of 6.3% that month.

Dean estimated that if the money was divided up based on population alone, Utah would’ve received about $3.5 billion in state and local government assistance, compared to the $2.5 billion it got under the formula that takes joblessness into account.

State and local officials can spend that money to address the COVID-19 emergency and offer help to businesses, nonprofits and others impacted by the pandemic, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They can also use those funds for essential worker pay; for water, sewer and broadband projects; and to prop up government services that would otherwise be impacted by a pandemic-related revenue loss, according to NCSL.

These governments will have until the end of 2024 to spend the money.

“Part of the issue here is that we do have a much stronger economy, much more economic activity already taking place organically,” Dean said. “So I think there’s this question of, how do we actually spend that in productive ways in the economy that will turn to our long-term benefit?”

How could the package impact Utah’s economy?

Utah’s economy and job markets have already bounced back relatively well from a pandemic-induced slump, Dean said.

“Even though we’re not fully recovered, I think we’re very close to recovery,” he said.

Still, Dean said, the individual stimulus payments could provide “very significant short-term benefits.” The size of that economic bounce will depend on how much money people spend inside Utah and how much of that money goes out-of-state or into saving accounts. And there are indications that many people saved a significant chunk of their prior stimulus checks, Dean added.

So I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But it certainly is going to have a very significant stimulative effect for the Utah economy,.”