President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan aimed at keeping businesses afloat during the pandemic, responding to the worst of the second wave and rolling out a nationwide vaccination plan.
And the two top Democrats in Congress — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York — in a joint statement on Jan. 14 promised quick action in both chambers on what Biden has called the “America Rescue Plan.”
“The crisis of human suffering is in plain sight, and there’s no time to waste,” Biden said during an announcement at his Delaware transition headquarters. “We have to act, and we have to act now.”
Here are some of the key components of the package:
The proposal calls for direct payments of $1,400 to Americans, which on top of the $600 from the current federal COVID-19 relief bill, brings the total to $2,000. President Donald Trump sought $2,000 checks, but they were blocked by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, even though the proposal passed the House of Representatives.
“$600 is simply not enough if you still have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table,” Biden said in his remarks.
The proposal calls for $400 in weekly unemployment assistance through September, up from the current $300 but still below the $600 in the original federal relief package enacted in 2020.
Biden’s proposal would also extend the federal unemployment program for freelancers and part-time workers through September, and a incluces program that extends federal jobless benefits for 13 weeks.
Paid sick and family and medical leave would be expanded to 14 weeks.
Higher minimum wage
The proposal calls for a $15 nationwide minimum wage. The current rate has remained at $7.25 for over a decade. New Jersey minimum wage went up to $12 an hour on Jan. 1, and will reach $15 an hour in 2024
State and local aid
The proposal calls for $350 billion to help state and local governments handle costs of the pandemic response. Congressional Republicans have blocked similar proposals.
The money could be used to pay the salaries of emergency workers, teachers, health care workers and other public employees. And $3 billion would go toward the federal Economic Development Administration for job-creation.
State and local governments would be compensated for providing paid family and medical leave to employees, and the federal government would pick up the tab for the emergency response, including the deployment of the National Guard.
“These crises are straining the budgets of states, cities, and tribal communities that are forced to consider layoffs and service reductions,” Biden said.
Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly called for the federal government to provide funds for states and municipalities. Murphy said in a Jan. 14 statement that the plan would meet “every need with a real lifeline to American families, real support for state and local governments and for our vaccination efforts, and a real vision for our post-pandemic economic future.”
The plan would appropriate $20 billion for a nationwide vaccination program, done in tandem with state and local governments. Biden has promised to get vaccines into the arms of 100 million Americans within his first 100 days of office, free of charge.
New Jersey’s vaccine rollout has been slowed by shortages, which New Jersey health officials and other states have blamed on the Trump administration. “The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said. “We will move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated.”
Small business assistance
The plan calls for $15 billion in small business grants. Businesses with less than 500 workers would be compensated through a refundable tax credit for providing paid family and medical leave. Another $35 billion in federal financing would come in the form $175 billion worth of low-interest loans and a venture capital program for businesses.
Applications have recently reopened for forgivable loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Other highlights include $50 billion for nationwide COVID-19 testing; $170 billion for elementary and secondary schools and higher education institutions; and $20 billion for public transit agencies, potentially including NJ Transit.
Worker protections would be strengthened to include employees not typically covered by federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. And the agency would receive more funding to enforce those regulations.
Biden said he plans to unveil another bill in February geared toward bolstering the nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic.