President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday evening outlined a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package to fund a nationwide vaccination effort and provide direct economic relief to Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic, telling Americans that “the health of our nation is at stake.”
“There is real pain overwhelming the real economy — one where people rely on paychecks, not their investments, to pay for their bills and their meals and their children’s needs,” Biden said in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, in which he took aim at the nation’s searing income inequality.
He did not detail how he plans to move his massive proposal through a Congress where Democrats will have narrow House and Senate majorities, though both congressional Democratic leaders pledged to shepherd Biden’s vision into law.
Instead, Biden spoke about the economic and health threat of the pandemic, calling them “once-in-several-generations” crises, and cast delivering economic relief and rapidly vaccinating Americans as urgent challenges.
“In this pandemic in America, we cannot let people go hungry. We cannot let people get evicted. We cannot let nurses, educators and others lose their jobs when we so badly need them. We must act now and act decisively,” Biden said.
The American Rescue Plan will include allocating more than $400 billion toward addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, including $160 billion in funding to execute a national vaccination program, expand testing and mobilize a public health jobs program, among other measures.
His proposal includes $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans and extending and expanding unemployment benefits, including a $400 weekly unemployment insurance supplement, through September.
Biden downplayed the deficit spending his proposal would require, saying that the benefits of aggressively spending to combat the economic impact of the pandemic would “far surpass the costs” and that the United States’ debt outlook would be “more stable, not less stable, if we seize this moment with vision and purpose.”
In a call with reporters Thursday previewing the speech, Biden senior officials expressed confidence in meeting the President-elect’s goal of 100 million shots, which is enough to cover 50 million Americans with vaccines that require two doses, in his first 100 days in office.
Biden has been pushing for Congress to increase the stimulus check amount to $2,000, which would be accomplished by passing the additional $1,400 checks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, rejected a bill last year that would have increased direct stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000. But with Democrats winning control of the Senate earlier this month, New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer will become Senate majority leader, and Democrats have a better shot at passing the legislation.
In a joint statement, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Biden’s proposal, noting that it includes much of what congressional Democrats had pushed in recent months — including the larger stimulus checks and funding for state and local governments.
“We will get right to work to turn President-elect Biden’s vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law,” the Democratic congressional leaders said.
The Biden officials criticized the Trump administration’s vaccination efforts, with one official saying the country is “woefully behind on where we need to be in responding to this crisis,” and that nearly a year into the pandemic, “there is no federal comprehensive strategy or infrastructure in place to ensure that vaccinations make it into the arms of the US population.”
The President-elect’s speech comes the day after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time. The Senate trial could complicate and delay Biden’s efforts to swiftly pass his Covid-19 relief and vaccination legislative package, as well as the confirmation hearings for his Cabinet nominees.
Biden’s plan invests $50 billion to expand Covid-19 testing, providing funds to purchase rapid tests, expand lab capacity and help schools and local governments implement regular testing protocols. Biden will also ask for $30 billion to invest in the disaster relief fund to ensure sufficient supplies and protective gear, and to provide total federal reimbursement for critical emergency response resources.
The President-elect will call on Congress to extend the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums and continue applications for forbearance on federally-guaranteed mortgages until September 30. He will request an additional $30 billion in rental, utility, energy and water assistance for those hit hardest by the pandemic.
He will also make the case that Congress should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a campaign promise from the President-elect.
That proposal could meet major opposition from Republicans. But Biden pointed to Florida, a Republican-led state, saying that “as divided as that state is,” it just passed an amendment raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“No one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line,” Biden said.
Biden will also announce a second legislative package in the coming weeks focused on jobs and economic recovery, “designed to invest in American innovation competitiveness, combating the climate crisis by investing in clean energy jobs and infrastructure, the care workforce and the caring economy.”
In order to aid struggling small businesses, Biden is proposing $15 billion in flexible grants to more than 1 million of the hardest hit small businesses. He is proposing investing $35 billion in government funds into state, local, tribal, and nonprofit small business financing programs.
Biden’s plan would provide additional resources for high-quality, affordable child care. He will request a $25 billion emergency stabilization fund to assist child care providers in covering their costs to operate safely. It would also provide emergency paid leave to an additional 106 million Americans in order to help reduce the spread of the virus.
The President-elect will propose that the child tax credit be made refundable for the year, and that Congress increase the credit to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for a child under the age of 6, and make 17-year-olds qualifying children for the year.
The President-elect will propose working with Congress in order to support restaurants, bars and other businesses that have disproportionally suffered amid the pandemic.
Biden is calling on Congress to provide $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments in order to support front line workers, keeping them on the job and paid.
“Our rescue plan will provide emergency funding to keep these workers on the job and maintain essential services,” Biden said.
This story has been updated with details from Biden’s speech and his plan.