by Madison Li ’22
Published Mar. 22nd, 2021
Over the last few months, President Joseph Biden has been working to implement his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Otherwise known as the American Rescue Plan Act, it will allocate funding toward various purposes to mitigate the pandemic’s impact. Mainly, the bill will facilitate and expedite the distribution of vaccines, help schools resume in-person instruction, and boost employment while providing more unemployment aid. The new provisions will especially support low-income Americans, but also broaden the scope of assistance for Americans of all incomes.
Although the original plan was more ambitious and extensive, the Senate made several amendments in order to garner support from moderate Democrats. Major changes included limited eligibility for stimulus checks, decreased unemployment insurance benefits, and denial of a federal minimum wage increase to $15/hr. Ultimately, Congress approved the updated version by slim margins in both chambers. The Senate passed it 50-to-49 on Saturday, March 7, and three days later, the House of Representatives passed it 220-to-211.
As evidenced by close party-line voting, heavy disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans led to controversy surrounding the legislation. Through the budget reconciliation process, the Democrats passed Biden’s bill without the approval of the Republicans. They asserted that the plan is necessary to stimulate the economy and provide much-needed relief.
Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has remarked, “This is a momentous day in the history of our country because we have passed historic, consequential and transformative legislation” that will “save lives and livelihoods.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also emphasized in regard to the plan, “We say to America, ‘Help is on the way.’”
In contrast, the GOP believes that it’s too aggressive and unnecessary, since the economy is already recovering. Republican Congress members Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-AZ), and Liz Cheney (R-WY) have claimed the bill to be “universal fraud law,” “written in hell by the devil himself,” and “a real tragedy,” respectively. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has lamented, “[The bill] was jamming through unrelated policy changes [the Democrats] couldn’t pass honestly. A colossal missed opportunity for our nation.”
On Thursday, March 11th, President Biden signed the final bill. The primary points are as follows. First, the IRS will send stimulus checks, with the amount determined by tax returns. Direct payments of $1.4k are available to individuals with incomes under $75k, heads of households with incomes under $112.5k, and married couples with incomes under $150k. Parties with dependents will also receive an additional $1.4k per child. Moreover, Child Tax Credit will be expanded up to $3.6k per child under 6 years of age and $3k per child under 18 years of age, paid in monthly installments. $39 billion will be allocated to child care providers.
In addition, $300 billion will be focused on unemployment benefits. This includes an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs through September 6, as well as having the first $10,200 of benefits be tax-free for households with incomes less than $150k. Furthermore, $350 billion will be given to state and local governments, $40 billion of which will be used for housing issues: paying rent, utilities, mortgages, and taxes, as well as sheltering the homeless.
$130 billion more will go to schools for reopening. $40 billion will go to colleges, half of which will be given to students as financial aid. $50 billion will be allocated to small businesses, including $15 billion for the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program and $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. $25 billion will be provided for small restaurants.
As for vaccines, $14 billion will be spent on research, development, and distribution. $50 billion will be used for testing and contract tracing, plus $7.7 billion to hire public health workers. There will also be increased subsidies to purchase healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, along with increased eligibility for these subsidies through reduced limits on income.
The first round of stimulus checks will likely be distributed as early as this weekend. President Biden and the public are optimistic for the results, hoping to help the disadvantaged cope better with the pandemic. “This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation—the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going—a fighting chance,” the president declared.