President-elect Joe Biden is expected to lay out his $1.9 trillion relief package in a primetime address on Thursday — which will focus on a new round of stimulus checks to struggling Americans and an ambitious vaccine distribution plan to control the deadly pandemic.
Biden will ask the new Democratic-controlled Congress to approve the “American Rescue Plan.” A chunk of the funds —$416 billion— will help launch a national vaccination program with a goal of vaccinating 50 million Americans and reopening schools in the first 100 days of his administration.
His speech comes as the pandemic continues to worsen. According to NBC News’ Covid-19 data tracker, there have been 384,375 deaths and more than 23 million cases in the U.S.
The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for its distribution strategy for the vaccines. As of Wednesday, of the more than 29 million vaccine doses distributed nationwide, just over 10 million people have received their first dose, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Two senior transition officials told NBC News that the Trump administration has barely invested in building a federal infrastructure to help states distribute the vaccine.
An extra $1 trillion would be allotted to help struggling Americans with the third round of stimulus checks — giving them $1,400 direct payments, including an extra $400 per week for unemployed and affected workers. Biden is expected to also ask Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in an effort to help frontline workers battling the pandemic.
Billions will also be allotted to help small businesses, low-income families facing homelessness, paid family leave affordable child care access, and improving access to federal nutrition programs for children and families.
Last month, $600 payments started being dispersed as part of the nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law after after delays during which he urged legislators to instead send out $2,000 checks. The Democratic-led House then passed a bill to greenlight the larger checks, but the legislation never received a vote in the Senate.
House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. expressed approval of the package in a joint statement Thursday ahead of Biden’s remarks.
“These proposals by the Biden-Harris administration will be critical to getting our country through this challenging period and towards a period of recovery. We echo the president-elect’s call for bipartisan action on his proposal and hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to quickly enact it,” the Democratic leaders said.
Biden has signaled that he wants a Covid-19 relief bill on his desk by the end of January — a plan that may be complicated due to an impeachment trial that’s expected to take place in the Senate in the coming weeks.
“We are in a race against time. We need these resources to vaccinate the vast majority of Americans and to put safety measures in place that will help us put Covid behind us so that we can reopen our schools, businesses, and once again be able to get there with our friends and family,” one senior transition official said on a briefing call with reporters on Thursday before Biden’s address.