The House on Saturday approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, marking a crucial step toward passage of the White House’s first major piece of legislation.
Biden’s sprawling proposal set off an immediate debate among Republicans and Democrats over how best to heal the economy — or if another stimulus package is needed at all. Some issues, like raising the minimum wage to $15, have been especially fraught.
Many Democrats are backing Biden’s message that it is better to go too big on a relief bill than too small. Republicans, meanwhile, say the bill is much too large and is full of provisions that have little or nothing to do with responding directly to the pandemic.
The bill now heads to the Senate. Democratic leaders have said they hope to get a final version to Biden’s desk by mid-March, when expanded unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans.
Stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, child tax credit
- The House bill provides $1,400 stimulus checks, on top of the $600 payments issued through the stimulus bill passed in December. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget puts the price tag of this next wave of checks at $422 billion.
- The vast majority of Americans who received an earlier stimulus payment will get one again. But the most affluent families would be left out. Republicans and more moderate Democrats argue that this next round of payments should only go to the hardest-hit households.
- Under the plan released by House Democrats, earlier this month, individuals earning less than $75,000 would receive $1,400 and married couples earning less than $150,000 would receive $2,800.
Expanded unemployment insurance and child tax credit
- The $900 billion stimulus package passed in December provided the unemployed an extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits. But that program expires in mid-March, raising concerns about a looming cliff facing its recipients. Nineteen million Americans were on some for of unemployment insurance for the week ending Feb. 6.
- The House legislation increases the weekly benefit from $300 to $400 per week through August 29. That’s one month shorter than Biden’s original proposal.
- The House law also expands the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child, and $3,600 for children under age 6. The bill also expands the Child and Dependent Tax Credit so families can claim up to half of their child care expenses on their taxes.
- The House bill would increase the hourly minimum wage to $15, up from the current level of $7.25.
- But whether it remains in the final version sent to Biden’s desk is still unclear. On Thursday, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan official, ruled that the wage increase cannot remain in the coronavirus bill as written. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement Thursday night saying “we are not going to give up the fight,” and many liberals are urging Schumer to challenge the ruling. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Biden was “disappointed in this outcome” but “respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process.”
- About $50 billion will fund coronavirus testing and contact tracing. Another $19 billion will go to increase the size of the public health workforce. And another $16 billion will fund vaccine distribution and supply chains.
- Economic policymakers, including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell, have said that vaccinations are the most important tool for the economy. Biden on Thursday marked the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccine administered in the United States — the halfway mark to the administration’s goal of 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days.
Aid for state and local governments and transit
- The House law sets aside $350 billion for state and local governments, territories and tribes.
- Facing deep budget shortfalls, state and local governments have shed 1.3 million jobs since the pandemic began last year. While tax revenue grew in some states last year, the majority — at least 26 states — were hit with declines.
- That has divided some moderate Senate Democrats over how best to target aid to governments that need it most. Senior Democratic lawmakers have become concerned that some states would use federal aid to cut local taxes.
- About $90 billion would go toward various transportation and infrastructure causes. About $47 billion would increase funding for the Disaster Relief Fund, which is managed by FEMA, and cover funeral expenses tied to covid. Transit agencies would get $28 billion in grants, and $11 billion would go to airports and aviation manufacturers. About $2 billion goes to Amtrak and other transit-related spending.
- Another $12 billion provides grants to airlines and contractors to freeze layoffs at airlines through September, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget breakdown.
Schools and child care block grants
- The bill sets aside almost $130 billion for K-12 education. That money would go to improving ventilation systems, reducing class sizes, buying personal protective equipment and implementing social distancing, according to the House Committee on Education and Labor.
- Colleges and other higher-education institutions would get almost $40 billion. Schools must dedicate at least half of the funding for emergency financial aid grants to prevent hunger, homelessness or other challenges for students during the pandemic, according to the House committee.
- Almost $40 billion would go to child care providers through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. The bill also sets aside $1 billion for the Head Start program, which provides early-childhood education, health and nutrition services to low-income children and families.
Assistance for food, rent and mortgages
- The bill invests more than $5 billion in Pandemic-EBT, a program through which schoolchildren can receive temporary emergency nutrition benefits loaded on EBT cards that are used to purchase food. It also includes more than $800 million for the WIC program, which supports low-income women and infants.
- The bill sets aside $30 billion in emergency rental assistance and other relief for the homeless.
- Another $10 billion goes to mortgage assistance.
Business relief and retirement security
- The bill provides $25 billion in grants for restaurants and bars that have lost revenue because of the pandemic.
- Another $15 billion funds Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance grants of up to $10,000 per business. Additional funding for Paycheck Protection Program loans, and expanded eligibility for nonprofits and digital media companies, adds up to $7 billion.
- The bill also provides grants for multi-employer pension plans and changes to single-employer pension rules. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget puts the price tag at $58 billion.
- Congress has long been looking for ways to stabilize the multi-employer pension system and avoid insolvency. But some argue the covid bill isn’t the solution.
Health care coverage
- The bill reduces health care premiums for low- and middle-income families by increasing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) premium tax credits for 2021 and 2022, according to a summary from the House Ways and Means Committee.
- The bill also provides COBRA subsidies so workers who have been laid off or had their hours reduced hours can keep their doctors and health coverage. The bill also creates health care subsidies for unemployed workers who are ineligible for COBRA.
Erica Werner and Jeff Stein contributed to this report.