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Biden Unveils COVID-19 Relief Plan

Vaccine Distribution Funding and More Direct Payments

President-elect Joe Biden shared his long-awaited coronavirus stimulus plan last night. For months Biden has said that helping Americans weather the economic hardship brought on by the pandemic will be his number one priority during his first months as president. Now, less than a week before he takes office, the country has a clearer idea of what that will mean. Here are some highlights of the $1.9 trillion proposal:

COVID-19 response: $400 billion for COVID-19 management and vaccine distribution to help meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration.

Stimulus checks: Direct payments of $1,400 to eligible American families, on top of the $600 approved in December.

Unemployment insurance: An extra $400 per week to federal jobless benefits through September.

Food assistance: Extra funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the rest of the year.

Rent relief: Rental and small landlord support, as well as a nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

Small business relief: A new flexible grant program for struggling small businesses that is separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Also an investment in local financing programs that can provide businesses with loans at low interest rates.

Biden’s plan is broken into two separate packages. The American Rescue Plan is what he laid out yesterday, which focuses on an immediate injection of coronavirus-related “rescue” money. Next month Biden plans to lay out his proposal for the Build Back Better package, which will focus on longer-term economic “recovery” focused on jobs and infrastructure.

The Pandemic Continues to Take its Toll

The need for COVID-19 relief is evident. Earlier this week, the US saw its highest daily number of deaths from the virus—4,327 according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As the coronavirus rages on, businesses are operating under restrictions, which is battering the labor market. Data released yesterday showed that first-time jobless claims reached 956,000, the highest weekly number seen since August. Claims were up by 51,280 in Illinois as Chicago placed new regulations on bars and restaurants to stop the spread of the virus. In California, where outdoor dining in restaurants is not permitted, claims rose by 20,587.

Will Biden’s Plan Pass?

Democrats have a slim majority in the House and the Senate. However, some moderate Democrats have expressed worries about another large stimulus bill. Meanwhile, some GOP lawmakers have voiced support for more direct payments to Americans, so their support could help the bill pass even if some Democrats oppose it.

Most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate, therefore some Republicans would need to vote on Biden’s plan in order for it to be passed. With that said, Democrats may have the ability to use what’s known as “budget reconciliation” to advance their proposal. This path requires just 51 votes in the Senate so if Democrats stay united they could leverage Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s vote to push it past the finish line. There are restrictions, however. Democrats can only pursue that path a certain amount of times and reconciliation bills must pertain to tax and fiscal matters rather than broad-based policies.

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