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Joe Biden signs his $1.9tr COVID relief plan into law

President Joe Biden signed his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan into law on Thursday, saying the ‘historic legislation’ will restore ‘the backbone of this country.’

‘This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation, working people, middle class folks, people who built the country a fighting chance. That’s what the essence of this is,’ he said.

‘Done,’  he said upon fixing his signature to the legislation. He signed it in the Oval Office with Vice President Kamala Harris at his side. 

‘Democrats and Republican friends have made it clear, people out there, made it clear they strongly support the American Rescue Plan,’ he said in brief remarks, adding that he would have more to say in his prime time address Thursday night.

He did not respond to questions.  

‘We’re going to be on the road not only talking about – what I’m talking about tonight is the impact on the virus, how we’re going to end this pandemic,’ he said of the law, which will provide stimulus checks to many Americans, money for COVID vaccines and funding to help schools reopen.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the first round of stimulus checks will hit people’s bank accounts this weekend.

‘People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend. This is, of course, just the first wave,’ she said at her press briefing on Thursday. ‘And payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks.’

President Joe Biden signs his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan into law

President Biden was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris for the signing

President Biden was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris for the signing

The president will hold a signing celebration at the White House on Friday with congressional leaders. Only Democrats are expected to attend with members from the House and Senate to be in attendance. 

The original plan was for him to sign the legislation on Friday but it was moved up after the ‘enrollment’ process finished. That is the process legislation goes through after it is approved by Congress but before it can be signed into law.

Republicans had accused Biden of trying to hold a PR stunt by stringing out the process and holding the signing on Friday instead of when the bill was ready. Biden had vowed to sign the legislation as soon as it passed Congress.  

‘The enrolled bill arrived last night — so @POTUS is signing it today — we want to move as fast as possible. We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with Congressional leaders!,’ White House chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted Thursday morning.

The House passed the American Rescue Plan on Wednesday after the Senate approved it over the weekend.  Not one Republican lawmaker crossed the aisle to vote on passing the final version of the legislation.

Biden also will make his first prime time address to the nation on Thursday night to mark the one year since the lock down began in the United States, to outline next steps in combating the pandemic and to talk about the sacrifices Americans have made.  

In his remarks, which are expected to run around 20 minutes, he will speak about how this has been the greatest operational challenge the country has faced and he will tout the work his team has done to rapidly increase the number of vaccinations, vaccinators and vaccinations sites up and running.  

‘This will be an opportunity for many people to really tune in and hear from him on his plan, on what his team has done to date,’ Psaki said Thursday. ‘What steps they’ve taken an update since he took office, but also concrete steps he wants to take moving forward. There will be some news in the speech, but it is really about laying out clearly.’

He will ‘level with the American people of what is required of them,’ she noted.  

Psaki said Wednesday that President Biden will appoint someone to oversee implementation of the law but declined to say who. Biden oversaw implementation of the 2009 Recovery Act when he was vice president but Psaki declined to answer when asked if Harris would play that role in the Biden administration. 

President Biden said the American Rescue Plan will give Americans a 'fighting chance'

President Biden said the American Rescue Plan will give Americans a ‘fighting chance’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the first round of stimulus checks would hit people's bank accounts this weekend

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the first round of stimulus checks would hit people’s bank accounts this weekend

Additionally, the president, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff are planning a travel and media blitz next week to sell the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan to the American people. 

The White House has called it the ‘Help is Here’ tour. 

President Biden will be in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, his first trip to the state as president. Pennsylvania helped him win the White House and he considers it a second home as he was born in Scranton.

He and Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Atlanta on Friday. The Democrats win in two Georgia special Senate elections gave the party control of the Senate. And the votes of Democratic Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock from that state helped make the legislation law. 

First lady Jill Biden will travel to New Jersey on Monday. And Harris and Emhoff head to Nevada on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday. Emhoff will be in New Mexico on Wednesday. 

Psaki said there is more travel to be announced. 

‘This is just the beginning,’ she said. ‘It was important to the president to visit, not just blue states, but also red states, purple states.’ 

Cabinet secretaries also are expected to make a travel blitz to help sell the plan.

Biden has said over and over again he doesn’t want to repeat what he believes was a mistake by the Obama administration in not selling its 2009 stimulus to the public.

‘We didn’t adequately explain what we had done. Barack was so modest,’ Biden told House Democrats last week. ‘I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ He said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.’

A new CNN poll found that 61% support the COVID relief plan, which includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for vaccine distribution.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is demanding the credit for the coronavirus vaccine shots that are now making their way into Americans’ arms at an accelerated clip – claiming there would be no vaccine for another five years without him. 

‘I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) vaccine, that if I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for five years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all,’ he wrote in a statement that came out Wednesday evening.

Donald Trump, pictured, sought to take credit for America's vaccine success after some of the available jabs were developed under his presidency

Donald Trump, pictured, sought to take credit for America’s vaccine success after some of the available jabs were developed under his presidency 

Trump issued the statement under the letterhead of The Office of Donald J. Trump but it read like one of the tweets he has been unable to send since his social media ban

Trump issued the statement under the letterhead of The Office of Donald J. Trump but it read like one of the tweets he has been unable to send since his social media ban 

The administration claimed based off 'reported administered' data that there was a new record for vaccine shots Saturday. The number later proved to be not accurate

The administration claimed based off ‘reported administered’ data that there was a new record for vaccine shots Saturday. The number later proved to be not accurate

The statement was carried on his official 45th President letterhead – though it took on the tone of one of his famous tweets before getting banned from Twitter after the Jan. 6th MAGA riot.  

Trump’s plea comes as credit for the vaccine that could soon transform the daily lives of millions of Americans was already taking shape.

The Pfizer vaccine, which was first out of the gate, was developed privately. But the Moderna vaccine, which like Pfizer is extremely effective, got assistance from Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed.’

Biden on Thursday announced plans to purchase an additional 100 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses.  

Since taking office, the Biden team has taken to blasting the state of the vaccine program they inherited, particularly on the distribution side – despite its vaccine development efforts getting credit during the transition. 

Additionally, Biden and his coronavirus advisor Andy Slavitt were put on the defensive when the AP reported in a fact check that both had overstated the ‘record’ 2.9 million doses given Saturday. The real number was 1.6 million. The earlier CDC figure had included doses from other days. 

What’s in the coronavirus bill

Relief checks

President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats tightened eligibility for the $1,400 payments to secure support from wavering Democratic senators.

But under the Senate bill being voted on in the House Wednesday, the phaseout stops at $80,000. 

Under the earlier House-passed version, the cash payment would have phased out for singles with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000. Under the original House bill, the cash payment for married couples phased out between $150,000 and $200,000. But under the Senate bill heading to Joe Biden’s desk, the phaseout stops at $160,000.

Most Americans will still be getting the full amount. The median household income was $68,703 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Roughly 8 million fewer households will get a check under the Senate bill compared with what the House passed, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center.

 

Money for state and local governments  

The Senate-passed bill provides $350 billion for state and local governments but adds the stipulation that the money can only cover costs incurred by the end of 2024. The Senate bill also prohibits states from using the money to offset tax cuts, nor can it be used to shore up a pension fund. The bill also requires that small states get at least the amount they received under virus legislation that Congress passed last March. Lawmakers are looking to focus the money on covering costs and revenue shortfalls arising from the pandemic.

 

Aid for the jobless  

The Senate-passed bill extends enhanced unemployment benefits through Sept. 6 at $300 a week. Also, the first $10,200 of benefits would non-taxable. The provision applies to households with incomes under $150,000.

Passage came after a compromise that knocked down the House-passed higher payment of $400 per week, with the extension running until Aug. 29. That´s on top of what beneficiaries are getting through their state unemployment insurance program.

 

More money for hospitals 

Hospital trade groups lobbied senators to tack on more money for hospitals to help maintain sufficient staffing and purchase personal protective equipment while caring for large numbers of critically ill patients.

The Senate bill being taken up by the House adds $8.5 billion for rural providers for COVID-19 relief.

   

Health insurance help  

Workers who lose their job can remain on their company´s health plan for up to 18 months under a law known as COBRA, but they typically must pay the full monthly premium.

The House bill temporarily subsidized 85% of the insurance premiums, which can be expensive. The bill that passed the Senate include a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums to ensure that the laid-off workers can remain on their employer health plans at no cost through the end of September.

  

Provisions for children and students

The bill provides $7.5 billion for vaccine distribution, along with $48 billion for testing and contract tracing.

It provides $39 billion for child care, amid studies showing women have been disproportionately kept out of the workforce due to schools closing in-person learning.

Schools and universities also get $160 billion in direct aide, but there are provisions meant to ensure it gets spent in the next few years.

It also expands the child tax credit to $3,000 per child – in a provision projected to cause a steep drop in child poverty. It is an increase of $1,000 from the current credit, which is fully refundable on tax returns. There is an additional $600 for children under six.

 

Amtrak and other winners  

Amtrak would get an additional $200 million on top of the $1.5 billion in the House bill, for a total of $1.7 billion. There´s also an additional $510 million for homeless services under the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $175 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All COVID-19 student loan relief would be tax-free.

 

No $15 minimum wage hike  

The Senate-passed bill being voted on in the House does not include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. It got stripped out after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage increase violated strict budget rules limiting what can be included in a package that can be passed with 51 votes rather than the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

– AP 

 

 


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