The US Senate, on a party-line vote Saturday afternoon, passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The bill not only contains billions of dollars in direct aid for Nevada, but it also includes other measures designed to help the gaming and hospitality industries and workers displaced by the pandemic.
Thanks to a few changes made in the Senate, the House, which initially approved it last weekend, will need to take up the bill again and sign off on those differences. That should happen early this upcoming week. Once that happens, it would go to President Joe Biden to become law.
The bill gives $350 billion to state, local, and county governments. It also provides $1,400 stimulus checks to many taxpayers. However, a couple of provisions in the House bill didn’t make it through the Senate. One was a proposed minimum wage increase to $15, and the other was a $400 weekly unemployment benefit extension.
Unemployed Casino Workers to Benefit from Plan
The Senate removed the minimum wage provision completely. But Democrats reached an agreement on a $300-a-week extra unemployment benefit that will run through Labor Day.
While the extra unemployment benefit has been reduced from what it was initially when Congress passed the CARES Act nearly a year ago, the extra funding will help thousands of Nevada casino workers still on furlough or who were laid off.
According to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation, there were only 127,900 casino hotel jobs filled in December 2020. That was down 39,500 jobs, or 23.6 percent, from December 2019. Other gaming-related segments also saw year-to-year declines. In all, the leisure and hospitality sector employed 300,700 workers in December, off more than 49,000 from the year before.
Besides extra funding, unemployed and furloughed workers will also receive a full subsidy to cover the COBRA health insurance premiums.
The American Rescue Plan Act will make good on our promise of direct payments to Americans in need and extend enhanced unemployment relief and complete health insurance premium coverage for Nevadans who have faced job losses through no fault of their own,” US Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, said.
One measure that may help casinos and resorts is an extension of the Employee Retention Tax Credit. Initially passed under the CARES Act, the credit gives employers ordered to shut down at least partially to claim a $14,000 credit for each full-time worker retained between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year. Businesses also received a $5,000 credit per employee for 2020.
In pushing for federal assistance last year, the American Gaming Association urged Congress to give businesses incentives for keeping as many workers as possible on the payroll.
More Funding Available to Help Tourism Economies
Another apparent change will likely benefit the gaming industry. The Senate’s version of the bill includes $750 million more in aid to states and communities that saw their tourism and travel industries beset by the pandemic. The House’s version set aside $450 million in economic adjustment assistance.
In a statement, US Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, said there wasn’t a “silver bullet” that can address all of Nevada’s needs from the crisis. However, she said that she worked hard to ensure Nevadans and the state’s hospitality industry received the help they needed.
“Nevadans have endured an extremely challenging year, and this bill responds to their needs by delivering emergency assistance to working families, providing relief to our hospitality and tourism industry and its workers, and supplying additional aid for our state’s frontline workers and small businesses,” she said.
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