President Biden Unveils $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan
President Joe Biden recently unveiled his “American Rescue Plan,” a $1.9 trillion package of policies to address the healthcare, economic, and societal harms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He described it as an “emergency legislative package to fund vaccinations, provide immediate, direct relief to families bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and support struggling communities.”
The plan, announced on Jan. 14, 2021, includes delivering immediate relief to working families among other initiatives. Although the current plan is limited on details, it’s likely to be expanded upon as negotiations are undertaken in Congress in the coming weeks.
Several of the COVID-19 relief provisions included in the end-of-year Consolidated Appropriations Act will expire in March 2021. As such, Congress is likely to aim to pass another relief bill before those provisions expire.
Due to the slim Democratic majorities in Congress and the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate, there are two paths going forward for any legislation to become law: It will either have to be passed through the Senate’s budget reconciliation process or by creating a bill that would receive bipartisan support in the Senate to advance by regular order. Although several Senate Republicans have indicated support for further relief measures, Democrats in the House and Senate have said they would be prepared to use budget reconciliation to bypass a filibuster if needed.
In his remarks, President Biden said, “As we work to keep people from going hungry, we will also work to keep a roof over their heads to stem the growing housing crisis in America. Approximately 14 million Americans have fallen behind on rent, many at risk of eviction. If we don’t act now there will be a wave of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months as the pandemic rages on. This would overwhelm emergency shelters and increase COVID-19 infections as people have nowhere to go and can’t socially distance.” And in one of his closing statements, he said, “we cannot let people get evicted.”
Relief for American Workers and Families
The plan includes efforts to aid workers and families through roughly $1 trillion in policies aimed at economic recovery. These policies, costing roughly $1 trillion, would, according to the Biden campaign’s summary, “[build] a bridge to economic recovery for working families and, according to researchers at Columbia University, cut child poverty in half.” The American Rescue Plan calls on Congress to:
Provide Housing Assistance
- Extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium and continue applications for forbearance on federally guaranteed mortgages until Sept. 30, 2021, to prevent evictions and loss of homes during the pandemic (the current CDC eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of March); and
- Provide $30 billion in rental and energy and water assistance for families. This includes an additional $25 billion for the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to assist renters and small landlords and $5 billion to cover home energy and water costs and arrears through programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Establish a Worker Safety Standard and Increase Wages
- Authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue standards that cover a broad set of workers to protect against unsafe working conditions and retaliation, as well as provide additional OSHA funding;
- Increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour; and
- Call on employers to provide back hazard pay to essential frontline workers, including those in the retail and grocery sectors.
Extend and Expand Emergency Worker Leave
The proposal calls for reinstating changes to the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and expand them to:
- Apply to all employers instead of only those between 50 to 500 employees;
- Provide over 14 weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave to help parents with additional caregiving responsibilities when a child or loved one’s school or care center is closed, for people who have or are caring for others with COVID-19, or who are quarantining with exposure; and
- Reimburse employers with fewer than 500 employees, as well as state and local governments, for the cost of leave.
Provide Stimulus Checks to Individuals
The plan calls for providing an additional $1,400 per person in direct financial assistance while also expanding eligibility to adult dependents and mixed-status households, as well as calling on the Treasury Department to deliver the earlier $1,200 direct payments under the CARES Act to families that didn’t receive them.
Extend and Expand Unemployment Insurance
- Increase supplemental Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments from $300 per week to $400 per week in unemployment insurance benefits to help laid-off workers cover household expenses;
- Extend the availability of federal unemployment insurance benefits through September 2021;
- Allow for automatic adjustments to the length and amount of relief based on health and economic conditions in order to prevent reliance on legislation to reinstate benefits if economic and health conditions meet certain threshold requirements so that these supports are provided for the full duration of the pandemic; and
- Extend financial assistance for unemployed workers who typically don’t qualify for unemployment compensation benefits (including self-employed and gig economy workers).
Provide Food Aid to Address Hunger
- An extension of the 15 percent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increase through September 2021;
- $3 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC);
- A partnership with restaurants to get food to families in need and assist laid-off restaurant workers;
- Temporarily cutting the state match for SNAP; and
- $1 billion in additional nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Provide Child Care Support
- Provide $25 billion for an Emergency Stabilization Fund to help child care providers safely stay open or reopen after the pandemic;
- Provide an additional $15 billion in emergency funds for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG); and
- Increase for one year the size of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit as well as making the credit refundable so that lower-income families can access the reimbursement.
Provide Tax Relief for Families and Essential Workers
- Expand temporarily the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers by increasing the size of the maximum credit, raising the income limit for the credit and expanding the eligible age range from 25-64 to 19-65 (excluding full-time students aged 19-24);
- Expand temporarily the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under age 6) for one year while also making it fully refundable to expand access to 27 million children living in households that currently lack enough income to qualify; during this period, children aged 17 would also qualify for the credit; and
- Promote cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) by providing an additional $1 billion in emergency funding for states to meet the needs of increased caseloads.