US President-elect Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion (€1.56 trillion) stimulus package on Thursday to revitalize a flagging economy and speed up the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden laid out the first of his “two-step plan of rescue and recovery” in a prime-time address.
“Tonight, I lay out my first step, the American Rescue Plan that will tackle the pandemic and get direct financial assistance and relief to Americans who need it the most,” he said.
“Next month, in my first appearance before a joint session of Congress I will lay out my ‘build back better’ recovery plan,” Biden said on Thursday. “It will make historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, and research and development in clean energy.”
“Our ‘rescue and recovery’ plan is a path forward with both serious of purpose and a clear plan, with transparency and accountability, with a call for unity that is equally necessary,” he said.
“It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once-in-several-generations economic crisis with a once-in-several-generations public health crisis. A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight and there’s no time to waste,” Biden said. “We have to act, and we have to act now.”
The president-elect also justified the huge price tag of his proposal during his speech.
“The return on these investments in jobs, racial equity will prevent long-term economic damage, and the benefits will far surpass the cost,” Biden said. “In this moment of crisis… we cannot afford inaction.”
The spending proposal will build on the two massive relief packages approved by Congress in 2020.
It lists a host of measures including providing financial aid to individuals, state and local government, and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.
What does the plan include?
- Stimulus payment checks for $1,400 – topping up the $600 checks issued under the most recent COVID-19 bill
- Raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour
- $350 billion in funding to state and local governments — a proposal that Republican lawmakers had blocked all last year
- $160 billion for a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign
- About $440 billion for small businesses and communities particularly hard hit by the pandemic
- $170 billion for schools, with the goal of getting most institutions serving kindergarten through eighth grade open in the first 100 days of his administration
- Increases supplemental unemployment insurance to $400 a week from the current $300 a week now; also extending it through September
- Extends moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions until September and funding rental
- Provides $30 billion in rental and utility assistance for families
Democrats pledge quick action
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement saying they would move quickly to pass legislation and get it to Biden’s desk for his signature. ”
“After Congress passed the most recent emergency COVID relief bill in December; Democrats were clear that much more needed to be done,” the two top Democrats said.
“We are pleased the Biden-Harris package includes much of what congressional Democrats have been fighting for.”
What are the challenges?
However, many Republicans in Congress balked at the price tag of the stimulus plan, which would be the third massive pandemic aid package.
While the Democratic party controls both chambers of Congress, their razor-thin majority in the Senate could be threatened if any in their party were to break ranks.
Also, the incoming administration seeks to pass the legislation even as the outgoing President Donald Trump faces an impeachment trial.
Biden has encouraged lawmakers to handle the trial while also moving forward with his agenda.
More than 385,000 people have died due to COVID-19 in the US as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, government numbers reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims in the first week of 2021; up to 965,000 — the highest since August.