President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday proposed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that would add $1,400 to the $600 direct payments granted under a law signed by President Donald Trump late last month.
The proposal would also extend unemployment benefits and help schools reopen. And it includes $350 billion for state and local aid — a top Democratic priority,
“I’m convinced we’re ready to get this done,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware, as he advanced his plan. “The very health of our nation is at stake.”
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., quickly welcomed Biden’s plan.
“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,” Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement.
Biden said he wanted to work across party lines, but if Senate Republicans balk, congressional Democrats could use a procedure known as reconciliation to prevent a filibuster and pass the stimulus plan by a simple majority vote in each chamber.
That’s the same procedure the GOP used to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to pass a tax law that the Congressional Budget Office said increased the federal deficit by $1.9 trillion over 10 years, the same size as Biden’s stimulus proposal.
Besides increasing the total direct payments to $2,000, the Treasury Department would make sure that the initial round of $1,200 checks under the CARES Act went to eligible families that have yet to receive them.
Biden said that the $600 payments in the stimulus plan that was enacted on Dec. 27 were “simply not enough if you still have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table. Even for those who have kept their jobs, these checks are really important.”
The proposal provides long-sought assistance to states and localities of $350 billion to help pay the salaries of police officers, health care workers, teachers and other public employees. Of that money, $3 billion would be earmarked for the Economic Development Administration to help create jobs.
“These crises are straining the budgets of states, cities, and tribal communities that are forced to consider layoffs and service reductions,” Biden said. “It means the people putting their lives at risk are the very people now at risk of losing their jobs.”
In addition, state and local governments would be reimbursed for providing family and medical leave to employees, and the federal government would cover the full cost of state emergency response efforts, including deploying the National Guard.
“This plan meets every need with a real lifeline to American families, real support for state and local governments and for our vaccination efforts, and a real vision for our post-pandemic economic future,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
“I have said many times that history would not dismiss us for going big and bold but that history would judge us if we fail to ensure that the many needs of our people and our states are adequately met. This is a moment unlike any in American history, and we cannot let it slip away unanswered.”
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the proposal would provide more money for distributing vaccines, increasing testing and hiring public health employees.
“These investments will protect the health of the American people and help us crush this virus so we can rebuild our economy.,” said Pallone, D-6th Dist.
There also would be funding to increase nutrition programs, and expand and extend paid family and medical leave.
This won’t be the last spending program proposed by Biden to combat the coronavirus-induced economic downturn. He said he would offer a major package of investments in infrastructure, clean energy and worker training before a joint session of Congress last month.
Here are other highlights of Biden’s stimulus package:
— Eviction protection. The moratorium against evictions would be extended to Sept. 30, $25 billion would go to renters and small landlords to help cover rents, and $5 billion would go to the low-income home heating assistance program and other programs to cover home energy and water costs
— Health insurance. Biden, who was vice president when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, proposed expanding tax credits to lower premiums and subsidizing the cost of insurance for those who were laid off but are eligible for coverage under COBRA.
— Higher minimum wage. Biden called for a $15 per hour minimum wage, a long-sought goal of progressives. New Jersey is phasing in the $15 minimum wage. Its current minimum wage is $12.
— Public transit. Another $20 billion in aid would go to the hardest-hit public transportation agencies, possibly including NJ Transit.
— School aid. The proposal has $170 billion for schools, including $130 billion to help schools reopen, $35 billion for public colleges and public and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority serving institutions, and $5 billion for governors to support early childhood, elementary or secondary educational programs hardest hit by the coronavirus.
— Small businesses. The hardest-hit businesses would be eligible for $15 billion in grants. There also would be $35 billion for state, local, tribal and nonprofit financing programs for small businesses, which the Biden transition said would generate up to $175 billion in low-interest loans and venture capital.
Businesses with less than 500 workers would be reimbursed for expanded family and medical leave through a refundable tax credit.
— Unemployment insurance. Biden proposed extending pandemic unemployment insurance programs past their March expiration date, as well as increase to $400 a week from $300 the extra federal payment.
— Worker protections. As their price for protecting businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits, congressional Democrats demanded standards to protect employees. Biden said he wanted Congress to let the Occupational Safety and Health Administration set standards that cover all workers, not just under the agency’s jurisdiction, and called on more funding so the government can enforce those rules.
The total package is similar in size to House-passed legislation in the last Congress, as well as the $1.8 trillion in spending offered by Trump last fall. And it is more than twice as large as the $900 billion stimulus passed last month.
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