President-elect Joe Biden unveiled his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan Thursday night. The relief package — entitled the American Rescue Plan — includes direct payments of $1,400 stimulus checks to qualifying Americans (bringing the total relief to $2,000), an increase in and extension of federal unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week through the end of September and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Biden also proposed a new $15 billion grant program for struggling small business owners, separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program, along with a $35 billion investment in local financing programs that provide businesses with low-interest loans.
The proposal is designed to provide additional fiscal support for American workers and families until the COVID-19 vaccine is more widely available, the president-elect announced in his address to the nation on Thursday night from Wilmington, Del.
“A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight and there is no time to wait; we have to act now,” Biden said Thursday night. “In this moment of crisis, we cannot afford inaction. […] These investments in jobs will prevent long term economic damage and the benefits will far surpass the cost.”
Business organizations and advocacy groups have already responded to the $15 minimum wage proposal, with the Fight for 15 advocacy group saying in a statement that they are “thrilled” that Biden is tackling a $15 minimum wage in his first 100 days. The International Franchise Association, meanwhile, expressed concern that “a requirement to more than double some workers’ wages will harm struggling businesses and likely slow the recovery.”
On Thursday, Biden responded to criticism of his call for $15 minimum wage by saying, “people tell me that is going to be hard to pass but Florida just passed [the $15 wage] and the rest of the county is ready to move forward as well. No one working 40 hours a week should have to live below the poverty line.”
Here are the other components included in the proposed stimulus package, which includes many elements that were part of the original $3 trillion CARES Act in March 2020 and the scaled-back relief package passed in December:
- An extension of eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until the end of September, with $5 billion set aside to help tenants struggling to pay rent.
- Restoration of emergency paid sick leave through the end of September
- $350 billion in aid for state and local governments
- $170 billion in aid for K-12 schools and higher education
- $50 billion for Covid-19 testing
- 15% increase in SNAP benefits through September
- $20 billion toward a national vaccine program, in partnership with state and local governments
- Increasing the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under 6) and making it refundable for the year
Biden also proposed certain key changes to the original stimulus checks, including payment eligibility for some adult dependents over 17, and households with mixed immigration status.
The bill is one of two major spending initiatives Biden is seeking in the first few months of his presidency. The second bill — the Build Back Better recovery plan — is expected to be officially unveiled in February, and will tackle long-term goals of jobs creation, addressing climate change, tackling infrastructure, and advancing social equity.
Though the plan is likely to be met with friction on the other side of the aisle, Biden has received bipartisan support from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who implored the president-elect to prioritize $2,000 relief checks for Americans, saying in a letter from Tuesday, that legislation that called for increasing direct payments “would send a powerful message to Americans.”
Biden is expected to announce his vaccine rollout plan on Friday.
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