Biden Unveils $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Plan

January 15, 2021 by Dan McCue
President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during an event at The Queen theater, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

WILMINGTON, Del. – President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday night unveiled a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan intended to aid struggling Americans and businesses, bolster state and local governments, and dramatically ramp up the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine with a goal of reaching 100 million doses by the end of his first 100 days in office.

Six days out from his inauguration, Biden asked Congress to quickly approve the measure, hopefully by the middle of February.

By that time, aides said, the administration will be ready to begin rolling out an economic recovery plan that will depend heavily on infrastructure projects and measures to address climate change.

Biden’s relief proposal includes roughly $1 trillion in direct aid to citizens, including provisions mandating $1,400 tax rebate checks for individuals, $440 billion in funding for local communities and small businesses, $400 billion dedicated to vaccine distribution, expanded testing, and $350 billion in additional aid to state, local and tribal governments.

To further ensure that all Americans can access the vaccine free of charge, the Biden proposal will ask Congress to expand federal Medicaid assistance to 100%..

Biden is also proposing that Congress approve an extension and expansion of the child tax credit that would be fully refundable for the year, as well as an increase to $3,000 per child or $3,600 for children under six years old.

The credit currently maxes out at $2,000, but lower-income workers don’t receive the full value of the credit because it’s only refundable up to $1,400.

Biden is also proposing that Congress provide funding to establish a 100,000-person public health jobs corps that would work with local health care providers and communities on vaccine outreach and contact tracing, according to the officials.

A total of $30 billion would go into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund to help supply health care workers and first responders with personal protective equipment and supplies.

It would also increase the amount of money the federal government reimburses states for National Guard activations from 75% to 100%.

The package also would extend the $400 weekly federal unemployment insurance through September, and provide schools with resources intended to help them return to in-person teaching.

“This is a national emergency and we need to treat it like one,” one official said.

But getting the ambitious package passed is not going to be easy.

In December, the House and Senate deadlocked and nearly failed to pass the most recent $902 billion COVID relief package, when Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell tied additional aid to the government providing greater liability protection to businesses.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., both rejected the idea, and the only thing that allowed relief to be passed was an agreement to set the controversial provisions aside for another time.

Tougher still to sell will be a proposal rolled into the package to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour and eliminate lower minimum wages for certain classes of employees, including tipped workers.

Pelosi and Schumer were among the first to respond to the package and their assessment was 100% positive.

“When President-elect Biden was elected, he told the American people that ‘Help is on the way'” they said in a written statement. “With the COVID-rescue package the president-elect announced today, he is moving swiftly to deliver that help and to meet the needs of the American people.

“American families face an extraordinary combination of health and economic crises – from COVID-19 to racial inequality to climate change – all of which demand big, bold and immediate action,” Schumer and Pelosi continued. “The emergency relief framework announced by the incoming Biden-Harris Administration tonight is the right approach. It shows that Democrats will finally have a partner at the White House that understands the need to take swift action to address the needs of struggling communities.”

Both vowed to “Get right to work” to turn Biden’s proposals into legislation that can pass both chambers and be signed into law.

“The Biden-Harris package includes much of what Congressional Democrats have been fighting for, including an increase in direct payments to $2,000 for American families, support for vaccine distribution and testing, additional aid to small businesses, funding to safeguard state and local jobs, extension of unemployment benefits, help for renters and children in poor and middle-class families,” the statement said. “The development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines was a tremendous scientific breakthrough, and it means that recovery is on the horizon. 

“But our country is still suffering some of the highest rates in the entire world of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.” the lawmakers said. “These proposals by the Biden-Harris Administration will be critical to getting our country through this challenging period and towards a period of recovery.” 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Thursday night the Biden plan “recognizes that while we hope the end of this crisis is near, for many, the struggle is only getting worse and more help is needed. 

“Throughout this crisis, I have been clear that until we eradicate the virus, we cannot expect our economy to bounce back,” he continued. “The next step after providing additional relief is working together to make historic investments in our country’s economic recovery, create new jobs, and build back better and more equitably than ever before.”

Clarence Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities, said Biden’s proposal “brings hope to the millions of Americans in our cities, towns and villages who have been devastated by the effects of this pandemic.

“The American people are suffering, facing unprecedented job losses and fear for themselves and their loved ones as this virus continues to ravage our communities,” Anthony said. “This plan lays the foundation for the critical and holistic support we need to fight back and begin to rebuild, arming local governments, health departments, businesses, and citizens themselves with the funding they need to mount a strong defense.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat,  struck a similar tone.

“Getting ourselves in front of this pandemic – and staying there – cannot be done piecemeal and it cannot be done through austerity,” Murphy said. “It requires bold and equitable investment in our people, in our states, and in our common future.

“This plan meets every need with a real lifeline to American families, real support for state and local governments and for our vaccination efforts, and a real vision for our post-pandemic economic future,” he said.

“President-elect Biden is showing that he wants history to note that at this moment of national uncertainty we answered decisively and we didn’t fail,” Murphy added.

Also praising the plan was the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which represents employers in a sector that has lost 2.4 million jobs since the start of the pandemic. 

“It is clear President-elect Biden wants to take action to address the unique devastation the pandemic brought to America’s independent restaurant and bar community,” the group said in a written statement. “We are encouraged by President-elect Biden’s repeated and outspoken support for direct aid to independent restaurants and bars, especially as we remain one of the only industries seeing shrinking employment and closed doors across the country. 

“President-elect Biden’s plan opens the door for Congress to pass the bipartisan RESTAURANTS Act and ensure America’s second largest employer gets the grants they need to fully reopen and secure 11 million jobs,” the coalition said. “Unsustainable debt, cold weather, and a surging pandemic have left many restaurants and bars out of options this winter. We are optimistic the new administration and Congress can quickly work together to protect local restaurants and bars from permanently closing with a new stimulus package.” 

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