With less than a week until he takes office amid a raging public health and related economic crisis, President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and recovery plan that progressive economists and activists welcomed as "an important start."
The need across the nation is extreme, with Covid-19 cases rising and the U.S. death toll nearing 390,000. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) noted Thursday that "another 1.2 million people applied for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 965,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 284,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)."
"There are now 26.8 million workers who are either unemployed, otherwise out of work because of the virus, or have seen a drop in hours and pay because of the pandemic," Heidi Shierholz, EPI senior economist and director of policy, explained in a blog post for the think tank. "Further, we started losing jobs again in December; layoffs are rising and the virus is surging."
Biden's American Rescue Plan includes $1,400 direct checks to Americans—the difference between the $2,000 that progressives in Congress fought for and the $600 that is currently being distributed—and boosting federal unemployment benefits for the millions of people across the country who are out of work from $300 to $400 per week through September, according to the Washington Post.
We need to tackle the public health and economic crises we’re facing head-on. That’s why today, I’m announcing my American Rescue Plan. Together we’ll change the course of the pandemic, build a bridge toward economic recovery, and invest in racial justice. https://t.co/UzGFZY7Jhp
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 14, 2021
Ahead of Biden's evening speech to introduce the proposal, the Post reported:
The plan contains a raft of provisions that build on the approximately $4 trillion Congress has already devoted to addressing the pandemic, which included a $900 billion measure [President Donald] Trump signed in December. Biden has repeatedly described that last bill as unfinished business.
Biden's proposal is divided into three major areas: $400 billion for provisions to fight the coronavirus with more vaccines and testing, while reopening schools; more than $1 trillion in direct relief to families, including through stimulus payments and increased unemployment insurance benefits; and $440 billion for aid to communities and businesses, including $350 billion in emergency funding to state, local, and tribal governments.
The incoming president calls for putting $20 billion into boosting vaccination efforts, $50 billion toward additional Covid-19 testing, and $130 billion into safely reopening a majority of K-12 public schools, the Post added. He further proposes pouring billions of dollars into childcare and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Corinne Roller, Paid Leave for the US (PL+US) legislative director, also pointed out that with this proposal, "Biden took a critical step towards delivering for working families by committing to reinstate and improve emergency paid leave to reduce the spread of the virus. The urgent need to prioritize paid leave policy has never been more clear as we continue to confront this dire pandemic and an economic recession that has left millions of families reeling from acute health, caregiving, and financial challenges."
Biden's plan would also expand eligibility for direct stimulus payments as well as tax credits for children and low-income workers. As millions of people nationwide have lost jobs since last spring, individuals and families have struggled to cover the costs of food, rental and mortgage payments, and various other bills—including internet service, which has become increasingly important as many jobs and education have shifted online to limit the spread of the virus in offices and educational institutions.
We have no time to waste when it comes to getting this virus under control and building our economy back better. Tune in as I announce my American Rescue Plan. https://t.co/4YAg0nhJMn
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 15, 2021
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Josh Bivens, EPI's director of research, called Biden's plan "commensurate with the scale of the economic challenge facing the United States, due to the harm caused by the Covid-19 pandemic." He explained that "the urgent economic priorities facing the nation are simple: get control over the spread of the virus and then ensure that U.S. households, businesses, and governments spend and invest enough to radically reduce unemployment and boost workers' wages. The Biden package ticks these boxes."
As Bivens detailed:
To support the spending and investment needed to fully repair the labor market, we estimated in early December that roughly $3 trillion was needed. Less than one-third of this amount was included in the end-of-year recovery package, and the Biden administration's proposal fills in the remaining amount. In short, it is a proposal that is driven by careful consideration of the evidence and is not artificially constrained by outdated fears about federal debt. This marks a welcome break from mistakes made in past downturns, such as the Great Recession. It is critical that the incoming Biden administration and Congress work to pass this important relief and recovery measure.
Claire Guzdar, director of campaigns and partnerships at the Groundwork Collaborative, also welcomed the plan while urging the incoming administration and lawmakers to go further.
"The economic case is clear: only massive government investment in workers, families, and communities can pull us out of this crisis. While this proposal on its own won't be enough to tackle this crisis, make people whole, and get our economy back on track, it would be an important start," Guzdar said. "The plan includes key provisions for people-centered relief. Congress should immediately move to pass President-elect Biden's plan and send it to his desk to be signed into law as quickly as possible."
"And we can't stop there," Guzdar emphasized. "Groundwork joins economists, experts, and people across this country in calling for the minimum of $3 to 4.5 trillion in investments needed to provide immediate relief. We can't afford to repeat the mistakes of the Great Recession. Investing too little too slowly will only prolong the economic pain that millions of people—particularly Black and brown people—are experiencing, and will slow any chance of true economic recovery."
The proposal was met with mixed responses from progressives in Congress:
President-Elect Biden's COVID rescue plan will begin to provide our people with much-needed support, such as $2,000 direct payments and a $15 minimum wage.
I look forward to working with him and my colleagues in Congress to urgently provide bold relief to working families. pic.twitter.com/i8wS5180bB
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 15, 2021
Unemployment benefits should be retroactive too. https://t.co/WRIiBAe0NY
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 15, 2021
$1,400 ≠ $2,000
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) January 15, 2021
Although, thanks to a pair of recent wins in Georgia, Democrats will soon control both chambers of Congress, Biden could still face difficulty getting the proposal past lawmakers—particularly Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who drew ire earlier this month for saying he would "absolutely not" support $2,000 relief checks. Further complicating the effort, "Biden is aiming to get GOP support for the measure... after campaigning as a bipartisan dealmaker," the Post reported, citing a transition official.