Biden signs American Rescue Plan: Includes $1,400 checks, aid for unemployed
President Biden on Thursday signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, the signature achievement of the first 100 days of his administration.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation, working people, middle class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance,” Biden said before signing the bill, which passed the Senate by a 50-49 vote on Saturday, then passed the House by a 220-211 vote on Wednesday.
“By signing the American Rescue Plan into law, President Biden has taken an enormous step in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic and setting our nation on a clear path forward to rebuild from this crisis. Soon, this bold legislation will start delivering urgent relief for Virginians and funding for the Commonwealth’s top priorities,” Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement Thursday.
“When President Biden assumed office, each day was met with over 3,000 COVID deaths and fewer than one million vaccinations. Fifty days later, daily COVID deaths are nearly cut in half, and daily vaccinations have more than doubled. By signing the American Rescue Plan today, the President is leading us even further in the right direction with stimulus checks, unemployment assistance through the summer, aid to safely reopen schools, and innumerable other measures to help us conquer this virus, rescue our economy, and return our lives to normal. It has been a painfully long, dark year, but light is on the horizon,” Sen. Tim Kaine said in a statement on the signing.
“For nearly a year, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of individuals and families across the commonwealth and the nation. Today, with tens of millions of Americans infected, more than half a million lives lost, over 18 million Americans unemployed, and millions more hungry and housing insecure, I am proud to say that help is on the way,” Fourth District Congressman Donald McEachin said. “At his inauguration, President Biden promised the American people we would act boldly and we have delivered. This week is a time of great progress and promise for Virginia families, communities and small businesses, and I am pleased to have done my part to deliver on the President’s promise by passing the American Rescue Plan Act.”
- Aid for unemployed workers: The bill extends federal unemployment benefits until September, allowing Virginians who are out of work due to the pandemic pay bills while the economy continues to recover and jobs are not widely available. The nation is still down nearly 10 million jobs from when the pandemic started, and more than 250,000 Virginians would have been at risk of losing benefits in March and April without this extension. The bill also exempts the first $10,200 in UI benefits from federal taxes for low- and middle-income households, preventing surprise tax bills for out of work Virginians.
- Assistance for struggling households: The bill increases the size of the direct payments passed in December by another $1,400 per person, bringing the total to $2,000 per person. This round of direct checks will include adult dependents. The legislation also adds funding to the rental assistance passed in December and adds relief for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. Additionally, the bill will enhance the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, providing aid to low-income workers and families, and lifting millions out of poverty.
- Health care provider mental health: The bill includes $80 million to train health care professionals and public safety officers in strategies to reduce and address suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions; $20 million for the CDC to carry out an education and awareness campaign to encourage health care professionals and first responders to seek support and treatment for their own behavioral health concerns, identify and respond to risk factors in themselves and others, and address stigma; and $40 million in grants for health care providers to establish or expand programs to promote mental and behavioral health among their health professional workforce.
- Supporting public health data modernization: The bill provides $500 million to support and strengthen our public health data surveillance and analytics systems at the CDC.
- Aid for vaccine distribution and virus tracking: The bill provides $20 billion to improve vaccine distribution, $10 billion for the Defense Production Act to procure essential medical equipment, and $50 billion for virus testing, genomic sequencing to detect new variants, contract tracing, and additional PPE.
- Funding to safely reopen schools: In addition to state and local relief, the bill provides $125.8 billion for K-12 schools to reopen safely, including $2.1 billion for public schools in Virginia. Funds could be used to purchase PPE, reduce class sizes, repair ventilation systems, hire support staff, and implement other CDC-recommended public health measures. School districts could also use funds to help students who have fallen behind catch up and get back on track. The bill also provides $40 billion to help institutions of higher education, including $845 million for Virginia’s colleges and universities.
- Child care: The bill invests $39 billion in child care providers through the Child Care Development Block Grant Program. These funds can be used by child care providers for operating expenses, PPE, personnel cost, and financial relief for struggling families to cover tuition. As of last fall, more than a third of child care providers had closed in Virginia, eliminating 168,000 slots for children.
- State, local, and tribal aid: The legislation will provide $360 billion in relief to state, local, and tribal governments, including $6.9 billion for Virginia. It also includes more than $31 billion in targeted resources to Native American communities, which will benefit Virginia’s federally recognized tribes. Virginia has used past federal funding to provide hazard pay for direct care workers, support rental and mortgage relief, and expand broadband access. This new round of funding will help Virginia continue to take public health measures and address the negative economic effects of COVID while also including more flexibility to help local Virginia governments experiencing revenue shortfalls prevent budget cuts.
- Helping restaurants and other small businesses: In addition to providing an additional $7.25 billion to expand access to the Paycheck Protection Program for nonprofits and other organizations, the bill establishes a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide grants for restaurants. The bill also adds $15 billion for the Targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance program to help the hardest-hit small businesses.
- Broadband: In addition to the opportunities provided through aid to support state, local, and tribal governments, $7 billion is provided for the Federal Communications Commission to operate the Emergency Connectivity Fund. This fund will support broadband access for students by providing telecommunications services to schools and libraries.
- Expanding health care access: The legislation includes key provisions from the Medicare-X Choice Act to help low- and middle-income Americans pay their health care premiums by providing a larger tax premium subsidy for Americans living below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and expanding tax credit eligibility to families above 400 percent of the FPL.