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House passes $1.9T COVID-19 relief package: The political battle has just begun

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The House of Representatives, by a razor-thin 219-212 margin, voted in the wee hours of Saturday morning to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, setting up the next political battle in the U.S. Senate.

Among the key provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act : $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals, extended unemployment insurance, billions to support COVID vaccinations and small businesses impacted by the ongoing public health response.

“Virginia is making notable progress against this deadly virus, and our healthcare workers are fighting around the clock to save lives — but our communities remain in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and there is still so much at stake,” Seventh District Democrat Abigail Spanberger said.

“In the coming weeks and months, strong and coordinated vaccination efforts are the key to reopening our businesses, getting our children fully back to school, and protecting the most vulnerable among us.”

Details: Relief package

  • Delivering direct payments. The legislation includes additional direct payments for working families and individuals. The American Rescue Plan Act would provide additional direct payments — or “stimulus checks” — of $1400. Under the bill as currently written, single filers with incomes up to $75,000, head of household filers with incomes up to $112,500, and joint filers with incomes up to $150,000 would receive the full payment of $1,400.
  • Supporting small business through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and new supports for restaurants and bars. The American Rescue Plan Act includes an additional $7.25 billion in PPP funding and would extend eligibility of nonprofits of all sizes and types — except for 501(c)4 lobbying organizations. Additionally, the emergency relief package would create a Restaurant Revitalization Fund through the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide $25 billion in assistance for restaurants and bars with fewer than 21 locations — with $5 billion set aside for smaller establishments that had less than $500,000 in 2019 annual revenue.
  • Extending unemployment insurance: The American Rescue Plan Act would extend both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation through Aug. 29. Both programs are set to expire on March 14. Additionally, the legislation would extend the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through Aug. 29, and increase the weekly supplemental benefit from the existing $300 per week to $400 per week.
  • Providing emergency rental assistance to working families. The legislation would provide $21.2 billion for emergency rental and utility assistance to states, counties, and cities to ensure families can remain in their homes, stabilize renters, and protect rental property owners.
  • Increasing the Child Tax Credit. The American Rescue Plan Act would make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable for 2021 and increase the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child and make 17-year-olds qualifying children for the year. The legislation would direct the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury to issue advance payments of this tax credit, based on parents’ 2019 or 2020 tax returns.
  • Strengthening funding for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing: The relief package includes billions of dollars in additional funding for COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts — including more than $20 billion in additional funding to establish a national vaccination strategy to improve the administration and distribution of vaccinations. Additionally, the legislation provides an extra $49 billion to expand testing, contact tracing, and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Democrats weigh in

More from Spanberger on why she voted to approve the relief plan:

“This emergency package provides billions of dollars in additional funding for vaccines, so that we can accelerate our current battle against COVID-19,” Spanberger said. “I’ve heard about the pressing need for this funding directly from local health officials in Virginia. This legislation also prevents critical programs — like unemployment insurance and rental assistance — from expiring next month, so that our Virginia neighbors who rely on these programs are not left without shelter or left to starve. Additionally, this package includes new funding to support small businesses and restaurants. Based on many personal conversations with these employers, I know the true pain they’ve felt over the past year — and I know many in Virginia are still in need of a helping hand to keep their employees on the payroll, their operations open, and their lifelong dreams alive.

“Tonight’s vote is a necessary step to come to the immediate aid of our communities and to prevent lasting damage to our economy. I will be closely following the Senate’s progress in the days ahead as Congress works to move this package quickly to the President’s desk. Inaction — or the refusal to compromise — is unacceptable in the face of this lingering crisis.”

Statement from Second District Democrat Elaine Luria:

“More than 7,800 Virginians and 500,000 Americans have lost their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many more are still sick or have suffered financial and emotional hardship throughout this public health emergency,” Luria said.

“I voted for the American Rescue Plan today because the risk of doing too little to rescue the economy, ease the suffering of our neighbors, and prolong the recovery, far outweighs the investment needed to get our country back on track.

Floor remarks from Eighth District Democrat Don Beyer:

“American children are hungry, the recovery is stalling, and a million new people file for unemployment every week,” Beyer said.

“We can do our jobs: pass a national vaccination plan, safely reopen our schools, send relief checks to those who need, support the unemployed, and protect American jobs.

“Or we can let them fend for themselves, to slowly scratch their way back to health at great human cost.

“I choose relief, recovery, and progress.

“Madam Speaker my first job was in 1966 at $1.25 an hour – minimum wage.

“Sixteen times Congress has chosen to increase the minimum wage, and every time there was a CBO score or a Chamber of Commerce or a conservative economist who talked about ‘the shrinkage of low wage jobs.’

“But if we’re persuaded by this job loss mirage, we would never raise the minimum wage. And I refuse to believe that this is American exceptionalism.”

Republicans vote no

Statement from Sixth District Republican Ben Cline:

“Our families, our farmers, and our small businesses need our continued support as we navigate this COVID pandemic and work to reopen our economy, but they don’t need a $1.9 trillion package riddled with Democrat pork,” Cline said.

“While I could support additional relief to help get folks back to work and kids back in school, any further aid must be targeted, temporary, and actually tied to COVID. Not only is this legislation riddled with wasteful spending unrelated to COVID and bailouts for blue states like New York and California, but with more than $1 trillion in previously authorized coronavirus funds still unspent, it is premature.

“While there could be provisions of this bill that I would support as standalone legislation, H.R. 1319 as a whole is wasteful, partisan, and deeply flawed. For these reasons, I will be voting no this evening.”

Statement from First District Republican Rob Wittman:

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been clear that any relief funding must be temporary, targeted, and directly tied to COVID-19. It should come as no surprise I voted against the Democrats’ Partisan Reconciliation Package as it fails all three criteria,” Wittman said.

“We only recently passed the previous COVID-19 relief package and have yet to spend $1 trillion of the $4 trillion we approved. With so much money already waiting to be spent, we are only capable of spending 5 percent of the reconciliation package this year, with the remaining 95 percent left unspent until 2022. Even after waiting almost a full year – with the worst of COVID-19 hopefully behind us – only 9 percent of funding from this package will go toward COVID-19 relief, while the remaining $1.7 trillion will go towards a wish list of Democratic priorities.  Among these include union pensions, bailouts for state and local governments, federal funding for Planned Parenthood, as well as pork-barrel spending benefiting Democratic leadership, including Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer.

“This ‘relief’ package is anything but. Under the guise of COVID relief, it wastes precious taxpayer-money and resources on things that will only hurt our recovery efforts. One of the most harmful inclusions is a federally mandated $15/hour minimum wage. In a time of historic unemployment, one should expect the government to create jobs, not destroy them. And yet, when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found this measure will eliminate 1.4 million working-class jobs, the majority simply ignored the economics, with one member declaring they “don’t want” some businesses to survive. On top of eliminating 1.4 million jobs through a big government mandate, economists across the political spectrum have said this package goes beyond what the economy currently needs, and are worried about inflation and the potential for this package to hamper our economic recovery.

“In the last Congress, we were able to pass five COVID-19 relief packages – totaling nearly $4 trillion – in a bipartisan manner.  However, despite calls for unity, Democrats have abandoned the idea of working with Republicans, and rejected hundreds of Republican amendments and any efforts to advance bipartisan solutions that are targeted, temporary, and tied to COVID relief. Rather than engaging our perspectives – representing half of the nation’s perspectives – the Majority chose to go it alone, and the American people will suffer the consequences as a result. After a year of challenges, Americans deserve better than that.

“We should be focused on helping families get back to work, opening up economies again, more widely distributing the vaccine, and effectively spending the remaining $1 trillion from previous COVID packages.  I stand ready and willing to work with my colleagues to achieve this.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press news
augusta free press news