President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion plan to rescue the US economy by beating the pandemic, proposing economic and public health measures that include $1,400 checks for Americans, extended unemployment benefits, expanded daycare, and hiring 100,000 new public health workers.
“There is real pain overwhelming the real economy,” Biden said during a speech announcing the effort on Thursday evening. “This crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight. We have to act and we have to act now.”
The “American Rescue Plan” sees stopping the pandemic as key to restarting the US economy, at a time when unemployment claims, which were declining in the fall, are jumping sharply. The plan is a reversal from frequent complaints by the Trump administration that lockdowns and other public health measures hurt businesses.
Instead, the plan calls for sheltering workers, state and local governments, and businesses until an accelerated national vaccination and testing program allows for schools and the economy to emerge from the worst ravages of a surging pandemic. More than 388,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with around 4,000 dying in a single day earlier this week as the winter surge sweeps across the country.
With the US Senate shifting to narrow Democratic Party control this month, prospects for the plan passing through Congress, where a Republican Senate stalled a coronavirus spending bill until the last week of December, appears more promising. As well as the $1,400 checks to individuals to boost the economy, the plan provides a panoply of other benefits for small businesses, renters, and essential workers. “There is a path out of this darkness, but we will need support from Congress,” said a senior administration official in a background briefing on the plan.
Amid a disappointing vaccine rollout nationwide, with about 11 million people receiving their first shot in its first month, the plan includes $160 billion for a federal vaccination program. That money will hire 100,000 public health workers to give shots and follow outbreaks, provide paid sick leave to allow the ill to stay home from jobs instead of coming to work and spreading infections, and aim to reopen the majority of elementary and middle schools nationwide in Biden’s first 100 days in office. Community health centers and mobile vaccination centers would also be funded by the plan.
“The vaccine rollout in the US has been a dismal failure,” Biden said. He reiterated a campaign pledge to ensure 100 million vaccine shots in the first 100 days of his administration, and said he would lay out more vaccine plan details on Friday. “The more people we vaccinate, the faster we do it, the sooner we can save lives and put this pandemic behind us.”
On the testing side, another $50 billion of the plan would go to expand availability nationwide, also increasing dismal genomic surveillance efforts in the US with an aim toward detecting new more transmissible variants of the coronavirus. Another $10 billion would spur manufacturing of medical supplies amid the surge.
“From vaccines to therapeutics to diagnostics to other public health recommendations, everything is going to be informed by science,” Biden–Harris COVID-19 advisory board member Celine Gounder of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine said at a Thursday morning briefing.
In addition to extending unemployment benefits and barring evictions, the plan would expand food assistance for 43 million Americans, said Biden. “This will not only meet our moral obligation but help spur our economy.”
Although generally supportive, Robert Weissman of the Public Citizen watchdog group said in a statement, “The package is not perfect,” calling for expanding Medicare to cover people unemployed in the pandemic. Such steps toward national healthcare are seen as unlikely to pass a closely divided Senate, but will likely be debated in the months ahead.
Biden also called for raising the minimum wage to $15, additional infrastructure spending, and increased taxes on the wealthy, in a preview of his program for his presidency.
“I know what I have just described will not come cheaply, but failure to act will cost far more,” said Biden. “Together we can get this done and come out better.”