Joe Biden Urges Passage Of $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Relief Plan: “The Very Health Of Our Nation Is At Stake”

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

UPDATE, 4:43 PM PT: President-elect Joe Biden outlined his massive, $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, pitching it as urgent for the country to recover from health and economic devastation caused by the out-of-control pandemic.

With the current president, Donald Trump, banned on Twitter and impeached again by the House, Biden seized the spotlight, describing the country as in a crisis where “the very health of our nation is at stake.”

His speech was a prelude to be a major lobbying push by his incoming administration, with prospects much better now that Democrats will control the House and the Senate.

“There is real pain overwhelming the real economy, the one where people rely on paychecks, not their investments, to pay their bills and their meals and their children’s needs,” Biden said. “You won’t see this pain if your scorecard is how things are going on Wall Street, but you will see it very clear if you examine what the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy have laid bare.”

Biden took aim at the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine, calling it a “dismal failure,” as he described a $20 billion nationwide plan to make the shots available much more quickly.

“We will have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated,” he said.

He said that he plans to address a joint session of Congress in February to outline further economic steps.

Republicans are likely to balk at the cost of the plan, something that Biden seems to have anticipated as he argued that low interest rate borrowing now would help stabilize the economy.

“It’s not just that smart fiscal investments, including deficit spending, are more urgent than ever, it’s that the return on these investments in jobs, racial equity will prevent longterm economic damage and the benefits will far …surpass the costs,” he said.

PREVIOUSLY: President-elect Joe Biden is unveiling a $1.9 trillion plan to boost Covid-19 relief, including a national vaccination program and a $1,400 increase in direct payments to individuals.

Biden plans a speech on Thursday evening to promote the plan, which will be a legislative priority when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Dubbed the “American Rescue Plan,” it includes a $20 billion national vaccination program as well as steps to contain Covid-19 and to reopen schools. It also would step up testing and contact tracing and provide sick leave.

It includes $350 billion for state and local governments to make up for budget shortfalls, a key area of disagreement between Democratic and Republican leaders as talks dragged on for months.

Other parts of the plan include:

Unemployment benefits. Those who have exhausted their benefits would be able to extend them further, including to freelancers and contractors. That was a key push last year as Congress debated the first Covid-19 package. The bill that passed Congress in December extended benefits through March. The Biden proposal takes them through September.

Rental assistance. The eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, along with applications for forbearance on federally-guaranteed mortgages, would be extended until Sept 30. About $30 billion would be provided in rental assistance and to help small landlords. Another $5 billion would be for those at risk of homelessness.

Minimum wage. The hourly minimum would be increased to $15 per hour, the first boost since 2009.

Paid leave. Companies would be required to provide sick leave to employees. The government would cover some of the costs, with a benefit of up to $1,400 per week.

Small business. The plan includes $15 billion in grants for the hardest hit small businesses. Biden’s team singled out restaurants, hotels and the arts as industries that have been particularly hard hit. Another $35 billion would go to state, local, tribal, and non-profit small business financing programs.

Direct payments. Financial assistance would be increased by $1,400, added to the $600 that Congress passed last month.

Other parts of the plan address child care assistance, expand health coverage, public transit, cybersecurity and worker safety.

Biden’s plan is far larger than the $900 billion stimulus bill that he and Barack Obama sought to boost the dire economy when they took office in 2009. Unlike that time, Democrats hold a much narrower majority, with just a handful of votes to spare in the House and a 50-50 split in the Senate that will require incoming Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement in which they called the plan the “right approach.”

“These proposals by the Biden-Harris administration will be critical to getting our country through this challenging period and towards a period of recovery,” they said.

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