Democrats have given President Joe Biden his first major legislative victory by passing the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan. The bill is aimed at helping the economy rebound from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed nearly 530,000 Americans. The House, despite nearly unanimous opposition from Republicans, approved the measure on Tuesday. The President is expected to sign the historic legislation later this week.
The more than 600-page document---every word of which was read in the Senate over two days last week---contains relief money for Americans whose income meets the guidelines spelled out in the bill; provides for extended unemployment benefits that had been scheduled to expire in a few days; budgets money for states and local governments including money to reopen schools. It also includes money for a number of other projects and agencies that have been impacted by the coronavirus.
Colorado’s congressional delegation voted strictly along party lines for the measure. Democrat Ed Perlmutter, who represents both Jefferson and portions of Adams County, praised the historic stimulus package as essential for getting Coloradans back to work and on their feet. “This relief package is exactly what we need to contain the virus and work to rebuild the economy,” he said. Money in the bill will also pay for coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution. The bill, said Perlmutter, “will quickly support the physical, emotional and financial health of all Americans.”
The bill contains approximately $350 billion for states, local governments, territories, and tribal governments. Colorado will receive nearly $6 billion dollars. Denver County is expecting $141 million, El Paso County $140 million and Jefferson County $113 million. Smaller communities will also be getting money in the Covid Relief package. Alamosa, for example, should receive $2 million; Englewood $7 million.
Included in the $350 billion is funding for higher education, public transit, housing aid, childcare providers, and food assistance. There will also be money for businesses, including restaurants and live venues financially damaged by the pandemic. One thing not included in the bill that Democrats had fought for is an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
This will be the third economic relief bill passed by the Congress as a result of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus. Previous direct payments to Americans have been for $1,200 and $600, respectively. This bill calls for payments of $1,400 to individuals earning under $75,000 and married couples making under $150,000 plus $1,400 for each dependent. A family of four could receive $5,600.
Several Republicans critical of the measure, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said it would provide relief checks for undocumented immigrants. There is no such provision.
The bill will extend unemployment benefits through September but not at the level that most Senate Democrats wanted. President Biden had set $400 as his bar for the unemployed and the House had agreed. But Senate wrangling over the figure, led by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, lowered that amount to $300 but extended payments through September 2021.
Boulder Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse who gained a national profile as one of nine House Impeachment Managers, voted to send the legislation to the Senate. “When America is hurting,” he said, “we cannot turn our backs. This plan will address both the public health and economic needs produced by this crisis.” The virus has killed more than 6,000 Coloradans and infected more than 400,000 since it began a year ago. The measure expected to pass the House this week, said Neguse, “will help us crush the virus, return children safely to the classroom, get vaccines to the people and put dollars into families’ pockets and put people back to work.”
Notable in the $1.9 trillion dollar legislation is $128.5 billion earmarked for K-12 education, though most of that money will be distributed in 2022 and stretching to 2028. Another $50 billion will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of which will go toward reimbursements of up to $7,000 for funeral and burial costs related to COVID-19 deaths.
Republicans conceded that Congress needed to draw up an economic stimulus package but set the bar for their version at $600 billion. But President Biden did not budge from his promise of delivering $1.9 trillion. As Republicans railed against the price tag of the Biden relief bill as too costly, Republicans were quiet about 2017’s $2.3 trillion Trump tax cut which came in at an estimated $2.3 trillion and one that former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin boasted would not only pay for itself but also pay down the debt. To date, neither has occurred.
They also argued that too much money was going to pet projects, including a $1.4 billion Bay Area Rapid Transit line from San Jose to Santa Clara and $1.5 million dollar Seaway International Bridge in New York. The Senate Parliamentarian ruled that the BART earmark could not be included and was pulled. Republicans accused Pelosi of directing it to her district, despite the fact that the proposed line is not in Pelosi’s district. The Seaway Bridge was also a project the Trump administration had wanted funded more than five months ago.
While Republicans have almost uniformly turned thumbs down on the bill, red states will still get their share. Two of the reddest, Florida, and Texas, will receive a combined $45 billion in the package.
There is little argument that the bill’s $1.9 trillion price tag is enormous. Simply imagining the figure is dizzying. For comparison, a single second, a unit of time we can all relate to, is infinitesimal compared to what a trillion seconds equal. (Are you sitting down?) If a person began counting now one number per second, it would take 31,546 years to reach one trillion! Twice that long to reach 1.9 trillion.
Treasury officials expect relief checks to individuals and families to begin going out by month’s end. Those with direct deposit should be receiving checks first. Those who have received paper checks may have to wait slightly longer.