President Joe Biden’s $1.9tn Covid-19 relief plan was approved in the Senate on March 6 despite every Republican senator voting against.
This is President Biden’s third major relief bill aimed at helping Americans deal with the impact of the coronavirus.
The House of Representatives – controlled by Democrats – is expected to approve it on March 9.
President Biden described the Senate vote as “one more giant step forward” in delivering the promise to help people.
America’s worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, with a current unemployment rate of 6.2%.
The package envisages one-off payments worth $1,400 to be sent to most Americans.
Republicans, who have criticized President Biden’s plan as too costly, forced a number of compromises, notably the lowering of federal unemployment benefit from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit would be extended until September 6 under the plan.
The president said: “It obviously wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was so desperately needed, urgently needed.”
He added he hoped for a quick passage of the bill in the House so that he could sign it into law.
The so-called American Rescue Plan allocates $350 billion to state and local governments, and some $130 billion to schools.
It would also provide $49 billion for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14 billion for vaccine distribution.
The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes – at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000.
The extension of jobless benefits until September, meanwhile, would mark a key reprieve for millions of long-term unemployed Americans whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March.
The bill also includes grants for small businesses as well as more targeted funds: $25 billion for restaurants and bars; $15 billion for airlines and another $8 billion for airports; $30 billion for transit; $1.5 billion for Amtrak rail and $3 billion for aerospace manufacturing.
While Republicans broadly backed two previous stimulus plans, passed when they controlled both the White House and the Senate under President Donald Trump, they have criticized the cost of President Biden’s bill.
There was a marathon 27-hour session before the final vote on March 6, and the 50-49 tally along party lines was indicative of the widespread Republican opposition.
The even split between the parties in the Senate meant that every Democratic senator needed to support the party’s plans.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan to help Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic has been approved in the House of Representatives.
The vote was along partisan lines. Two Democrats joined Republicans – who see it as too expensive – in opposing it.
The relief bill must now go to the evenly-divided Senate, which has already blocked a key element – doubling the US minimum wage to $15/hour.
The Covid-19 relief package seeks to boost vaccinations and testing, and stabilize the economy.
The cash would be extended as emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state governments. Unemployment is close to 10%, with some 10 million jobs lost in the pandemic.
The vote comes in the same week the United States passed 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths – the largest figure of any nation in the world.
In brief remarks at the White House on February 26, President Biden hailed the House’s approval of the plan, saying he hoped it would receive “quick action” at the Senate.
He said: “We have no time to waste.
“If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again. And the people in this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering.”
Joe Biden had appealed for bipartisan unity when he took office last month.
He has championed what he calls the American Rescue Plan as a way to help struggling Americans through Covid-19.
However, Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic.
The divisions were reflected by the representatives.
The bill is the third major spending package of the pandemic, and actually not quite as big as President Donald Trump’s $2trillion last March.
A $1,400 cheque per person, although payments phase out for higher incomes
Extending jobless benefits until the end of August to help the more than 11 million long-term unemployed
Parents of children under the age of 18 to get a year of monthly benefits
$70 billion to boost Covid-19 testing and vaccinations
Financial support for schools and universities to help them reopen
Grants for small businesses and other targeted industries
Funds for local government
One of the other major elements is the increase of the minimum wage from $7.25/hour – where it has been since 2009 – to $15.
On February 25, Elizabeth MacDonough, the non-partisan Senate parliamentarian – who interprets its rules – said that raising the minimum wage would violate the budgetary limits allowed in this kind of measure.
The bill that passed in the House does still include the increase and it remains unclear how the issue can be resolved.
The minimum wage rise remains a key Democrat goal, particularly for the party’s progressive wing, and some top Democrats are considering a measure to penalize employers who pay less than $15/hour.
Republicans argue the minimum wage increase would be too heavy a toll on firms struggling to rebuild following the Covid-19 outbreak.
The package goes to the Senate – spilt evenly between Democrats and Republicans 50-50 – probably next week. The rules of the Senate do allow a reconciliation bill like this to be passed on a simple majority, rather than 60-40.
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