Biden to unveil $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan with more stimulus checks
President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday will unveil a $1.9 trillion package to provide economic relief to Americans and businesses and help fund an ambitious coronavirus vaccine program with the goal of reaching 100 million doses by the end of his first 100 days in office.
Biden will unveil the package in an address Thursday evening from Wilmington, Del., six days before he will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States and his administration takes over the federal government’s response to COVID-19.
Biden’s plan will include $415 billion focused on fighting COVID-19, upward of $1 trillion in direct aid to individuals and families and another $440 billion in aid to businesses, according to senior officials with the incoming Biden administration who briefed reporters on the package.
The plan would provide $1,400 in additional stimulus checks, bringing the combined total with the $600 payment approved in December to $2,000, extend key unemployment programs from mid-March through the end of September and increase weekly additional unemployment payments from $300 to $400.
It would also gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, representing the first such increase since 2009.
The package would increase the amount of the child tax credit and allow the lowest-income families to receive the full amount, increase paid sick and family leave policies, extend the eviction moratoriums and provide $30 billion in rental assistance funds.
Biden’s proposal includes roughly $415 billion to help address the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including $20 billion to set up a national vaccination program and create community vaccination centers across the country to quickly inoculate Americans.
Biden has been critical of the Trump administration for the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and for falling far short of the goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020. Biden has pledged to get 100 million people vaccinated in his administration’s first 100 days.
The proposal also includes $50 billion to scale up diagnostic testing so that the country can quickly identify asymptomatic cases. The plan includes $130 billion to support actions to reopen schools, such as modifying classroom spaces to allow for social distancing and improving ventilation.
Biden has set a goal of reopening most schools within his first 100 days in office.
The plan also includes funding for 100,000 public health professionals to work in communities to implement contact tracing and vaccine outreach.
Small businesses will have access to $15 billion in grants, and $175 billion in investment leveraged by $35 billion in government funds, with special carve outs for restaurants, bars and other hospitality businesses disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
While Congress left a proposal for $160 billion in state and local aid on the cutting room floor in the last package, Biden will propose $350 billion in the upcoming plan.
Biden plans to urge Congress to act quickly on his proposal, officials said, and will unveil a second proposal in February to help further the U.S. economic recovery. That proposal is likely to focus on infrastructure, and may include a promised $10,000 reduction in student loan debt.
“This reflects our assessment of the immediate need for the immediate crisis recovery,” an official told reporters. “This should be understood as the first step.”
Despite the good news of two successful coronavirus vaccines, the United States is in the middle of the deadliest phase of the pandemic yet.
The U.S. set a new record for daily coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, with 4,327 people dying from the virus. The country is grappling with a virus surge after millions of Americans passed through airports over the holidays against advice of public health experts.
Meanwhile, jobless claims for the first week of January spiked to 965,000, an increase over the final week in December and the highest weekly amount since August.
Congress has already passed $4 trillion in legislation to combat the coronavirus and the economic damage it has caused, including a $900 billion package extending unemployment programs and providing $600 checks to some Americans.
Biden’s advisers say he has been consulting extensively with members of Congress, governors and mayors on his proposal and will work with members of both parties and congressional leadership in order to get a legislative package passed as quickly as possible.
Having won control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Democrats could attempt to use a tool called budget reconciliation to sidestep a Senate filibuster and pass the plan with Democratic votes alone.
But Biden officials indicated that they would pursue a bipartisan approach to the relief bill, opening the door for tough negotiations with Republicans in the first days of the Biden presidency.
Those negotiations are expected to coincide with the Senate impeachment trial for President Trump for his role in a violent mob to attack the Capitol last Wednesday.
Biden, who will enter office without any of his Cabinet nominees confirmed, is also urging the Senate to quickly confirm officials to serve in national security positions, adding further agenda items to the Senate’s workload.
But the strategy carries risk. Officials were adamant that time was of the essence for passing the next bill, and key benefits approved in December’s COVID-19 package are set to expire as soon as March 14.
Last year, recalcitrant negotiating positions among Congressional party leaders allowed major benefits and programs to expire in the summer, and put off a successful deal for months. Some economists blame the delay, along with the out-of-control spread of COVID-19, for throwing the recovery into reverse in recent weeks.
Republicans could renew their calls for broad liability protections for businesses, which they say would shield employers from coronavirus-related lawsuits and ensure they reopened more quickly. The GOP dropped its insistence on the issue in December in exchange for Democrats dropping the state and local aid.
Democrats may yet resort to using the budget reconciliation tool, if not to pass the legislation, then at least to burnish their negotiating position vis-a-vis Republicans, who have begun raising concerns over the debt in recent weeks.
“One could make the case that enough has been done, but also the case that there is the need for more,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
“But it is increasingly difficult to use these policy goals to justify additional trillions of dollars,” he added.
Nathaniel Weixel and Naomi Jagoda contributed.
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