Update (March 10, 2021):
Today Congress passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, nearly two months since he first announced it. And the process was not without its challenges—or concessions, NBC News reports.
The House originally passed the bill back at the end of February, sending it over to the Senate where parts of it were changed after some intense negotiations. Today the House gave approval on this updated version of the bill and will pass it along to Biden for his signature.
With this legislation, billions of dollars will go toward funding a ramped-up COVID-19 vaccine rollout and continued testing efforts, as well as another round of stimulus checks. But this version of the bill will provide lower unemployment benefits and will allow for fewer people to receive the $1,400 stimulus payments than originally planned. There was also a major back-and-forth over raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which ultimately did not make the final cut of the bill.
To learn more about the plans for this legislation—and the upcoming American Recovery Plan—continue to our original story below.
Original report (January 15, 2021):
This week President-elect Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that is aimed at keeping people safe and businesses afloat as we enter another year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new plan is the first of two major proposals that Biden says will help “get this virus under control and build our economy back better.”
“It’s been 343 days since the virus that has ravaged our nation tragically claimed its first life,” Biden began in a broadcast on January 14, 2021. “The emptiness felt by the loss of life is compounded by the loss of our way of life,” he said, noting that nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. have now died due to the coronavirus and millions more have lost their jobs or had their paychecks reduced during the pandemic.
To help alleviate the economic impacts of the pandemic and to try to stem the widespread health effects, Biden introduced his American Rescue Plan, which will provide $1.9 trillion for various health and economic efforts. The new plan “will tackle the pandemic and get direct financial assistance and relief to the Americans who need it most.”
Specifically, the Rescue Plan will provide $20 billion to help push forward the country’s vaccination effort, which has so far been a “dismal failure,” Biden said. That money will go toward setting up a national vaccination program, increasing vaccine supply, and funding local teams on the ground to actually get the vaccines to the people who need them—including setting up mobile vaccination centers in rural areas of the country that may not have easy access otherwise. Biden has previously said he is aiming to get 100 million vaccinations done in his first 100 days, and these measures are part of that effort.
The new plan also provides funding for other crucial health measures (such as a $50 billion investment in COVID-19 testing efforts and $30 billion to purchase protective equipment and other supplies) and calls for the hiring of 100,000 public health workers. It also includes funding to help safely reopen schools, economic assistance for small businesses, emergency paid sick leave, health care premium subsidies, and an increase in the federal minimum wage (to $15 per hour). For comparison, the most recent bipartisan stimulus package allocated $20 billion for testing and $8 billion for vaccine distribution.
Although some parts of the plan have received some criticism, particularly the $1,400 one-time stimulus checks, public health experts are relieved to see a coherent strategy that includes measures to actually combat the pandemic. This plan is “is exactly what we’ve needed to combat #COVID19. Resources to mount a national vaccination program, creation of a public health job corps, reengagement as a global health leader, and more,” Craig Spencer, M.D., MPH, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, said on Twitter.
“Smart plan by Biden team to put real $ for vaccines & testing,” Ashish K. Jha, M.D., MPH, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on Twitter. “Trump Administration has consistently tried to skimp in these areas. It never made any sense. Fund widespread testing & vaccinations. It’ll save lives and livelihoods.”
This is just the first of a two-step plan, Biden said. The second part, which will focus on forward-thinking recovery strategies (including efforts related to manufacturing, infrastructure, and climate change, for instance) rather than rescue, will be announced in more detail next month. It’s not clear how easily Biden’s rescue plan will pass Congress. Democrats now control both the House and (just barely) the Senate, but the vote could be delayed due to the upcoming impeachment trial and the plan may be too ambitious for full-on bipartisan support.