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Biden Asks Congress for $1.9 Trillion to Combat COVID-19, Boost Economy

Incoming president wants to mount a national vaccination effort and send Americans $1,400

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People have their temperature checked as they arrive at a Disneyland parking lot to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has called on Congress to enact a $1.9 trillion emergency relief package to fund a national COVID-19 vaccination program, provide Americans with $1,400 stimulus checks and expand unemployment benefits as part of a sweeping response to the coronavirus and economic crises.

“We must act now and act decisively,” Biden said in an address to the nation Thursday night from Wilmington, Delaware. “The decisions we make in the next few weeks and months will determine whether we thrive in a way that benefits all Americans,” he said. Biden’s transition team released a 19-page document that details how he would allocate the federal dollars.

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Biden said his plan, called American Rescue, is the first of a two-pronged approach to defeating the virus and bringing back the economy. He said he would go to Congress next month with a recovery proposal that focuses on infrastructure and climate change, and that will also include measures to help ease the financial burden on caregivers.

The national vaccination plan, Biden said, will help meet his goal of administering 100 million shots during his first 100 days. It will be “one of the most challenging operational efforts we have ever undertaken as a nation,” he said.

“There is tremendous demand for vaccines, and this is the most important task facing the new administration,” says Bill Sweeney, AARP senior vice president for government affairs. “We are pleased this proposal includes a new focus and necessary funding to improve vaccine distribution and steps to protect long-term care residents and staff who have been devastated by this pandemic.” Sweeney also said AARP was glad to see that the plan includes economic stimulus payments, nutrition-assistance funding, paid sick and family leave, and aid to state and local governments.

Get more Americans vaccinated

“Things will get worse before they get better,” Biden said Friday as he talked about the specifics of his vaccine plan from Wilmington. But, he said, “I’m convinced we can get it done. This is a time to set big goal,” he added, because the health of the nation is literally at stake.”

The national vaccine plan includes:

  • $20 billion for community vaccination centers, mobile vaccination units and money to help states inoculate all Medicaid enrollees. Biden says he’ll enlist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to immediately begin establishing 100 community vaccination centers across the country, using school gymnasiums, sports stadiums and community centers. And, he said, he will make sure some of these sites are located in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, such as African American and Latino communities, and in rural areas. He will also enlist independent and chain pharmacies to vaccinate more Americans.
  • Expanding the number of people available to administer the vaccine. This includes retired health care workers, military medical personnel, National Guard members and nonclinical personnel who will be trained to give people the vaccine shots. The plan also provides funding for 100,000 more public health workers to assist in the vaccine program and coronavirus contact tracing
  • Using the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacture of both the vaccines and the materials needed to administer them — from syringes to protective equipment. Biden did not specify how many more doses of the vaccine would become available. He did promise to make sure state and local officials know how many vaccine doses they will be getting and when.
  • Maintaining the two-dose schedule for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
  • $50 billion to scale up testing and expand lab capacity
  • $30 billion for personal protective equipment, testing and vaccine supplies and $10 billion to expand the manufacturing of needed supplies.

“We're going to turn away from the state-by-state crazy quilt approach and have a national direction,” says William Schaffner, epidemiologist and professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University. “That makes sense.”

Issue more stimulus checks

The plan provides $1,400 for every eligible person on top of the $600 Congress allocated at the end of 2020. The proposal would also expand eligibility to adult dependents who did not receive financial assistance in the previous stimulus rounds.

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Expand and extend unemployment benefits

Elements include:

  • Extending through September the emergency unemployment insurance program put in place because of the COVID-19 crisis. These benefits are currently scheduled to end on March 14.
  • Providing a $400-a-week supplement
  • Continuing to provide benefits for unemployed workers who do not typically qualify for such payments, including the self-employed, drivers for ride-hailing services, and grocery delivery workers.
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Increase wages and other benefits

The proposal calls for a national $15 minimum wage. It also would restore the paid sick and family medical leave benefits that were not extended in December’s relief measure. The proposal provides for 14 weeks of benefits for people who are sick, quarantining or caring for a child whose school is closed.

Support long-term care residents

Long-term care residents and workers account for nearly 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, and a large proportion of long-term care workers are African American and Hispanic women ­­— the populations that have borne the brunt of the pandemic. The proposal would provide funding for states to deploy strike teams to long-term care facilities that are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. These teams would help to vaccinate residents and workers, and provide better oversight of infection control.

Keep people in their homes

Congress is being asked to extend the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until Sept. 30. The plan provides an additional $25 billion in rental assistance and $5 billion to cover home energy and water costs through programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). An additional $5 billion in emergency assistance would help pay for housing for people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.

Help fight food insecurity

The plan would extend the 15 percent increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through September. Biden says he is committed to continuing to provide this boost in SNAP benefits for as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

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