Wind power more than tripled in the last decade, and now generates nearly 8 percent of the nation’s electricity. Solar power, which generated less than 1 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2010, now generates about 2 percent, and is growing fast. Economists generally agree that the Obama stimulus, which pumped about $40 billion in loans and tax incentives to those industries, deserves partial credit.
But experts also point to a fundamental problem with throwing money at climate change: It is not a particularly effective way to lower emissions of planet-warming pollution. While the Obama green spending created new construction jobs in weatherization and helped turn a handful of boutique wind and solar companies into a thriving industry, U.S. emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have stayed about the same, five million tons a year since 2010, and are projected to continue at the same level for the coming decades, absent new policies to force reductions, such as taxes or regulations.
Mr. Obama had hoped to pair the recovery act money with a new law that would cap planet-warming emissions, but that effort died in Congress. His administration then enacted regulations on emissions, but they were blocked by the courts and rolled back by the Trump administration.
The recovery act “was a success at creating jobs, but it did not meet emissions-cutting goals,” said David Popp, a professor, of public administration at Syracuse University and the lead author of the National Bureau of Economics study on the green stimulus money. “And this new stimulus, on its own, will not be enough to reduce emissions.
“Unless they can pair it with a policy that forces people to reduce emissions, a big spending bill doesn’t have a big impact,” Mr. Popp said.
Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
But, he added, “spending money is politically easier than passing policies to cut emissions.” If that “sets up the energy economy in a way that it’s eventually cheaper to reduce emissions, it could create more political support for doing that down the road” by making legislation or regulations less painful, he said.