Coronavirus | U.S. Congress passes $1.19 trillion COVID-19 relief bill
Over 500,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus pandemic
In a massive and early victory for the Democrats, the House of Representatives approved 220-211 a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, voting almost entirely along party lines. The bill, having already passed the Senate, will be signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday.
“Help is here,” Mr Biden tweeted shortly after the House had voted on the American Rescue Plan. He called the bill – which is one of the largest stimulus measures on record — a “historic victory” for the American people.
Eligible Americans will receive $1,400 cheques under a $400 billion measure contained in the bill. Another $350 billion will be directed towards vaccine distribution, assistance to State and local governments and to fund tax credits for those with children.
The bill extends by six months a $300 weekly unemployment insurance scheme which was due to expire in March. It also covers assistance to schools to facilitate the return of children to classrooms, a 15% increase in food stamp benefits for another six months and assistance for the heating and cooling of homes income for poor families among other measures.
Many of those eligible for the cheques are expected to receive them by the end of the month. Unlike what Mr. Trump had done with two sets of relief cheques that went out earlier, Mr. Biden will not have his name on the cheques.
Over 500,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus pandemic. Over 18% of Americans have been vaccinated and Mr Biden has said the country will have vaccines for everyone who wants them by the end of May.
Previewing his first prime time address, due to be delivered on Thursday, Mr. Biden said, “I'm going to launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of this past year.”
Before the House vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the child-related aspects of the bill, saying that child welfare was her main reason for entering political life.
“The Biden American Rescue Plan is about the children, their health, their education, the economic security of their families,” she said, adding: “This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have the opportunity to support.”
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that if the bill was passed Americans would be met by “some measure of prosperity” after the pandemic.
Republicans, all of whom opposed the bill, both in the Senate and the House, argued that the bill was too expansive and pushed through a raft of progressive policy priorities.
“This isn’t a rescue bill, it isn’t a relief bill, it is a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families,” House Minority (Republican) Leader Kevin McCarthy said, as reported by the Washington Post.
Measures Republicans have opposed include a $86 billion bailout to failing multi-employer pension plans, on the grounds that it is not related to the pandemic.
The sole House Democrat who had opposed the bill, Jared Golden of Maine, said some of the bill’s measures were unnecessary while others were absent — such as a provision to set the federal minimum wage at $15, up from $7.25 per hour — which could not pass the Senate version of the bill.
Nevertheless, a significant majority of Americans (70%) support the bill, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center on Wednesday. The same survey said 41% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican support the measures.
The Biden stimulus is expected to boost the global economic recovery from COVID, the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) had said on Tuesday.