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$1.9T stimulus bill clears first major hurdle, but fight may lie ahead. What happens next

It's on to the Senate, with the House approving the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Friday night. The relief package with its $1,400 checks still faces a headwind as a deadline looms. Here's where the bill stands.

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Congress is on track to complete the latest stimulus package by the middle of March.

Sarah Tew/CNET

After squeaking through a close vote in the House late Friday -- 219-to-212 -- the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is headed to the Senate. But a sticking point has emerged that could delay the bill, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and send passions flying. The House version of the bill would boost the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years, a hotly debated provision that could be heavily reshaped or pulled entirely, before the Senate casts its votes.

Adding to the pressure, lawmakers have just two weeks to complete their work if they're to meet a March 14 deadline to extend expiring unemployed worker benefits. In addition to raising the federal minimum wage, the nearly 600-page bill would issue $400 federal unemployment payments, provide tax breaks for children and caregivers, and send $1,400 stimulus payments to struggling families and individuals. 

Here's what you need to know about the relief bill as it heads over to the Senate, including the timeline to deliver new stimulus checks, which falls in the middle of tax season. This story is regularly updated with new information.

$15 minimum wage fight moves to the Senate

Boosting the federal minimum wage rate is a cornerstone of the Democrats' economic recovery plan, and also the most controversial and imperiled portion of the bill. The minimum wage rate has stood at $7.25 an hour since 2009. If Congress were to boost minimum wage to $15 an hour, 32 million US workers, or 21% of the workforce, would see their hourly wage lifted, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

"An increase in the minimum wage is a financial necessity for our families," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor Friday night, prior to the vote. "It is therefore inevitable to all of us that the $15 minimum wage will be achieved, even if it is inconceivable to some."

The House-approved bill includes the $15 minimum wage hike, but the pay raise is facing growing resistance from Republicans, some Democrats and even the Senate parliamentarian, who determines which items can and can't be included in the bill under a technique known as budget reconciliation, which Democrats are relying on to speed the bill through the approval process. 

It'll be up to the Senate to tackle the minimum wage provision. The Senate could strike the minimum wage language when it receives the bill. Or it could take another route, such as penalizing large companies that don't pay employees at least $15 an hour. While most Republicans oppose the bill, some are pushing for a smaller wage hike. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney, for example, proposed going lower, setting the minimum wage at $10.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Joe Manchin said the $15 an hour rate is too high and that he'd support a raise to $11 an hour. Fellow Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is also opposed. Both these votes are deemed essential to pass the package along party lines.

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A $1,400 third stimulus check, with an income cutoff

A $1,400 stimulus check amount looks set. Congressional Democrats, however, are considering new rules to "target" or restrict the checks to lower income earners. Under those proposed eligibility rules, some who qualified for the first two payments may not make the cut for a third. A hard ceiling on income, designed to exclude higher earners from getting a check, would come with a rule change for the use of dependents in the stimulus check formula. Check out our stimulus payment calculator to see how that could work for you.

The new proposal would give the IRS a deadline of Dec. 31 this year to finish sending the stimulus checks.

For this third round of payments, Congressional Democrats are pushing to include adult dependents as well as children and families with mixed-status citizenship. Here are all the ways a third check could bring more money, or how you could get less or be disqualified altogether. Here's what happens to your total if a check arrives during tax season. And here is how the third check compares to the first two payments.

What's going on with student loan forgiveness?

Forgiving student loan debt is on the table, but Senate Democrats and Biden have different dollar figures in mind for how much to cancel. Biden this month said he supports canceling $10,000 in student debt and extending the pause on student loan repayment. Biden's figure is at odds with a Senate Democrat proposal, however, that calls for canceling up to $50,000 in student debt.

"I do think that, in this moment of economic pain and strain, that we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated, No. 1. And No. 2, I'm prepared to write off the $10,000 debt, but not $50,000," Biden said on Feb. 16. The House bill doesn't address student loan debt.

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Democrats want to help students with loan debt.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Additional $400 in weekly unemployment benefits

If the new bill is approved by March 14, it would renew the federal unemployment aid without a gap in funding. The House version of the plan would send $400 federal unemployment payments through August, with triggers that would extend the benefits after September for those who continue to be out of work and include automatic payment adjustments linked to health and economic conditions.

The weekly $300 federal unemployment checks Congress approved in December as part of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief legislation are set to expire in March.

Expanded child tax credit would bring thousands of dollars more

The House bill would expand the child tax credit that currently allows families to claim up to a $2,000 credit for children under age 17. If approved, the plan would extend the benefit to lower-income families who otherwise wouldn't receive the credit. Families could claim up to $3,600 per year for a child under age 6 and up to $3,000 per year for those ages 6 to 17.

The expansion would target low- and middle-income households, according to Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. "More than one-third of the benefit would go to the lowest income parents, who'd get an average tax cut of almost $3,300," Gleckman wrote on Feb. 10. "Low- and middle-income parents would receive nearly 80% of benefits."

The plan would also expand tax credits for one year to help cover the cost of child care. Families could get back as a tax credit as much as half of their spending on child care for children under age 13, up to $4,000 for a single child and $8,000 for two or more children.

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Congress may set aside more money for child tax credits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Coronavirus vaccine delivery across the US

Nearly 95 million vaccine doses have so far been distributed in the US -- and over 70 million administered -- with the country on track to meet Biden's goal of 100 million vaccine jabs during the first 100 days of his administration (April 30 would be 100 days after Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration). In a town hall-style meeting on CNN on Feb. 16, Biden said that by the end of July, the country will have enough supply to vaccinate everyone in the US. The goal then becomes having enough other supplies and people to administer the vaccine.

Biden's plan would set aside $160 billion for a nationwide vaccine program that would help state and local governments get the vaccine into people's systems.

Eviction ban extended through September

The new proposal would extend the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until Sept. 30. The plan would provide $30 billion in rental assistance for renters and small landlords, especially for low- and moderate-income households. On Jan. 20, Biden signed an executive order extending the eviction ban through March, which means it may not be part of the final new stimulus bill at all.

Funds to help reopen schools during COVID-19

Getting students back on campus is a critical piece of the economic recovery. The bill would work to return students to schools by having a majority of kindergarten to eighth-grade classrooms safely reopen in the first 100 days of the administration.

Additional money for state, local and tribal governments

Since the fall, economists have pushed for Congress to provide funding for state and local public jobs. "The case for additional aid is strong because the downside risk of doing nothing is quite real," the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said at the end of last year. "The fact that over 1 million state and local government workers have lost their jobs is a sign that fiscal distress has had real consequences." In addition to state and local funding, the bill would provide funds for food and water assistance and food stamps.

For more information about stimulus money, here are the top facts you need to know about stimulus checks, how to calculate the size of your check and how your dependents could figure into your payment.