Who gets what in the Stimulus Bill?
A lot of people get a little bit. Some, like certain home buyers or car buyers get more than a little. Some projects that do seem related to stimulating the economy get billions, and they may hold the power to create or protect jobs. And some programs that are not related to economic stimulus but do represent Democrat wish lists items are promoted and enhanced. The official name is the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed by a partisan vote on February 13th. The signing of the bill into law was delayed until Tuesday, February 17th for the holiday weekend.
Originally the bill was promoted as heavy in tax cuts. The final product includes $212 billion in tax cuts and $575 billion in spending, which, President Obama promises, will save or create 3.5 million jobs.
In terms of tax cuts and savings, here are some of the specifics we know at this point.
Tax credits for individuals
This credit is up to $400 per taxpayer for individuals earning less than $75,000, and for married couples earning less than $150,000, for a maximum of $800 per couple. Unlike Bush tax rebates, taxpayers will not receive a check. The credit will be spooned out in the form of reduced withholding from their paychecks (taken out of Social Security and Medicare taxes). Estimates about the actual benefit vary, between $8 and $13 per week per taxpayer. The program extends for two years, through December 31, 2010. The cost to Americans spread over a ten-year period is expected to be $116 billion.
Temporarily increases the EIC for working families with three or more children. Previously families with at least two children might qualify for an EIC equal to 40% of the first $12,750 of earned income. The new bill increases the EIC to 45% of the same earned income and expands the phase-out range for married couples filing jointly, by $1,880.
In 2008 the child tax credit is refundable to the extent of 15 percent of earned income in excess of $8,500. The new bill lowers the floor to $3,000 for 2009-2010.
Individuals will be able to exempt $2,400 of their 2009 unemployment benefits from federal income tax.
Replacing the Hope Credit, for 2009 and 2010, the bill provides education credits up to $2,500 in tuition and related costs incurred during the taxable year, and is available for the first four years of education after high school. For the first time, college related book and computer purchases are also eligible for the write off. This credit phases out for single taxpayers with AGI of $80,000 to $90,000 and married taxpayers with AGI of $160,000 to $180,000.
The new credit replaces the 2008 refundable tax credit for first time homebuyers, which was equal to ten percent of the purchase price of a home up to $7,500. Recipients of these loans were required to pay back the funds over a period of 15 years. The new credit is raised to a maximum of $8,000, subject to income limits (less than a combined income of $150,000 for married couples), and without a requirement to repay. The credit is available for the purchase of a principal residence by a first-time homebuyer after 12/31/08. CCH reports, "Purchases on or after April 9, 2008, and before January 1, 2009, continue to be governed by the original first-time homebuyer credit enacted last year. The credit phase-out that starts for taxpayers with AGI in excess of $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) continues to apply to both 2008 and 2009 purchases." For purposes of this credit, a first-time home buyer is someone who hasn't owned a home in three years.
For taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes under $125,000 ($250,000 for joint returns), there is a new deduction for state, local, and excise taxes on the purchase of a new car, light truck, and other vehicles in 2009. This is available even for taxpayers who do not itemize. The deductible sales or excise taxes cannot exceed the portion of the tax attributable to the first $49,500 of the purchase price of any one vehicle.
Buyers of these cars could qualify for tax credits up to $9,100. However, at this time these cars are available in limited supply.
To prevent 24 million households from being caught in the AMT trap, the new law includes a one-year patch. Those who consider the patch to be a tax benefit as opposed to the removal of an unfair tax estimate the cost of this measure to be $69.8 billion. For 2009, exemption amounts are $70,950 for joint filers and their surviving spouses, and $46,700 for singles and heads of household. These amounts are increased from 2008 figures of $69,950 and $46,200 respectively. Congress has passed a patch every year for the past several years, but it usually does not happen until November or December. Fearing they would not be able to pass another costly measure after pushing through the stimulus bill, they added the AMT patch to this spending bill.
Tax benefits for business
Businesses with gross receipts under $15 million that experience losses can now carry those losses back for five years instead of two. This provision could result in a refund.
For certain small businesses the requirement to make estimated tax payments is reduced for 2009.
The new bill equalizes the tax-free benefits employers can provide to employees for transit and parking. Beginning in March 2009, parking and transit benefits are both set at $230 per month. This change is effective through 2010.
The new law includes a tax credit equal to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid to employees who are unemployed recent veterans or "disconnected youth" (defined as individuals between the ages of 16 and 25 who have not been regularly employed or attending school in the past six months and who are not readily employable due to a lack of certain basic skills). The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center gives this particular provision a "D" grade on its Tax Stimulus Report Card based on past experience with this type of subsidy and the likelihood that it will not generate new jobs in the target group.
Businesses were able to deduct up to $250,000 on the purchase of business equipment for 2008. Beginning in January 2009, that credit was reduced to $133,000, but the stimulus act raises it again to $250,000. In addition, the stimulus act reinstates bonus depreciation for purchases of eligible equipment.
Small business owners can exclude 75% of the profits from capital gains, provided they have owned their businesses for at least five years.
To read a summary of the major items your tax dollars will purchase, read our article, What will a $575 billion spending spree buy?
You can read the complete text of H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.