Relief in the form of legislation: The American Rescue Plan

On Jan. 14, just six days before the inauguration, President Joe Biden and his team unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan aimed at the economy and recovery of the people. The bill follows the $900 billion relief bill from December, and the $2.2 trillion CARES act relief package from March of last year and faced a partisan climate in Congress. 

A budget resolution, which is the budget total and allocations for a bill, passed Congress on Feb. 5 that allowed House Democrats to draft the first version of the legislation in the coming days. The House of Representatives voted primarily along party lines with a 219-209 vote in favor of passing the resolution. Senators drafted more than 800 various amendments to the bill in a “vote-a-rama” and Vice President Kamala Harris passed the resolution in a Senate tie-break of 51-50 votes. 

The package called the “American Rescue Plan” spans areas of relief such as stimulus checks, unemployment payments, vaccine and funding for testing, tax credits for children, a minimum-wage increase, funding for schools and state aid.

 The third round of stimulus checks is included in the bill totaling $422 billion for the payments. The legislation contains $1,400 checks for individuals making less than $75,000, payments decline for incomes above $75,000 and phase out at an income above $80,000 per individual. Couples who file taxes jointly can receive checks of $2,800 for an income of up to $150,000. Dependent children of any age are eligible for $1,400 checks. The package will extend unemployment benefits until Aug. 29 and continue to include a $300 weekly benefit for those who are unemployed.

A portion of the bill gives $8.75 billion to state, local, federal and territorial health agencies to distribute and track vaccinations. $20 billion is going to federal research for vaccines and another $25 billion for hospital testing and lost revenue. The legislation will provide state and local governments with $350 billion to balance their budgets.

Although an increase in the federal minimum wage did not pass in the House on Feb. 26 and will not be included in the final bill, the proposal was widely debated. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) expressed her concerns:

“They want to focus on COVID-19 recovery. And that’s not what this bill is all about…it’s about raising the federal minimum wage. What we need to do is open the economy and get people back to work.”

Additionally, $130 billion in funds will be allocated for K-12 schools. School districts such as Monroe Public Schools could use the money to help social distancing, hire staff, improve ventilation and purchase more protective equipment. 

“Money from grants can be used by districts, Monroe in particular, to support struggling students and to aid in teaching and learning. Grants may allow for new positions within the district to aid in supporting students. An example of this might be more literacy coaches or math support specialists to accommodate growing numbers of students needing help in those areas,” said Masuk economics teacher Alyson Femia.

Republicans have raised multiple concerns on the package; 10 GOP senators who met with Biden on Feb. 1, gave a $618 billion stimulus proposal as a counteroffer to the president’s current plan. Biden responded that he will “not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment”. The main concern coming from Republicans is that Biden’s plan is too costly and the increase of federal spending can hurt the country more than help it. Yet, the Biden administration

and the Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen firmly believe it’s better “to go big than to go small” when it comes to the current state of the economy. The administration has also heavily conveyed American support for the bill in contrast with the Republican party. Support for the legislation from Republican voters was found broadly in polls. A poll from the Morning Consult conducted from March 6-8 found that 59 percent of Republican citizens and 75 percent of Americans support the stimulus. 

In his inauguration speech, Biden called for unity. While one of Biden’s goals was to work on bipartisanship, he has acted on his promise to move on with only Democrats to pass the stimulus bill. This is sure to set an important precedent in the new Congress, as it may stall cooperation in the foreseeable future between the already divided parties. 

On Feb. 26, the House passed the stimulus bill with a vote of 219 to 212, the bill received no Republican support. Democrats labeled the bill a “budget” bill and used budget reconciliation, a process that expedites budgetary legislation like the stimulus. This process avoids the filibuster, where senators debate a bill for an exhausting period of time to stall the adoption of a bill with 60 Senate votes to override it.

The Senate Parliamentarian, who advises the Senate on the interpretation of rules and procedure, ruled that the increase in the federal minimum doesn’t count as a part of a budget bill.

The legislation passed the house on March 10 in a vote of 220 to 211.

“I do not think this one bill will provide a “quick fix” to the year of suffering that the country (and world) and economy have experienced. It will take some time for the dust to settle to see what the true ramifications of this pandemic will be. I do think stability will come in a sense from a new package, for individuals, businesses and different industries throughout the country,” stated Femia. 

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