The US House on Wednesday passed the huge $1.9tn coronavirus relief and economic stimulus package that represents Joe Biden’s first major legislative victory.
The massive legislation, a broadly popular bill with the public, received no Republican support. It aims to fulfill Democrats’ campaign promise to combat the coronavirus and revive a pummeled economy. It also includes sweeping anti-poverty measures that attempt to tackle deep-seated racial and gender inequalities in the American economy.
Here are the main elements of the bill:
$1,400 stimulus checks: A majority of Americans – as many as 85% of US households, according to Democrats – will receive direct payments of $1,400 per person. Individuals making less than $75,000 and married couples making less than $150,000 collectively would receive the checks. The payments would gradually decrease for those earning more than those income levels, with the benefit capped at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples, who won’t receive checks. The threshold is lower than Biden had initially proposed, and was changed to accommodate objections from moderate Democrats in the Senate.
Unemployment benefits: The bill extends through early September the $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits approved in a previous aid package. Biden proposed expanding the supplement to $400 a week through August, but the Senate kept it at $300, while extending the benefit through September. It also included a provision to make the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020 tax-free for households earning less than $150,000.
Child tax credit: The legislation significantly increases – and expands eligibility for – the child tax credit, a longtime progressive priority that Democrats are hoping to make permanent after the pandemic. Under the bill, the tax credit would jump from $2,000 a child under 17 to $3,600 for children up to age five and $3,000 for children aged between six and 17. Taken together with other benefits, it is estimated the expansion will halve the number of children living in poverty in America.
Health insurance subsidies: The bill would temporarily increase financial assistance for health coverage purchased through marketplaces established by the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. It also aims to help those who are unemployed keep their health coverage, as well as provides additional funding for military veterans’ healthcare and other health programs.
Vaccine distribution and testing: The bill provides tens of billions of dollars to speed up vaccine distribution and administration, as well as increase coronavirus testing and enhance contact tracing and genomic sequencing.
Pandemic response: The bill sends $350bn to state, local and tribal governments, to help offset deep budget shortfalls as a result of efforts to combat the pandemic. It also includes $130bn to help schools reopen safely by reducing class sizes and modifying classrooms to improve ventilation and social distancing. Colleges and universities would receive $40bn to help cover the cost of pandemic-related expenses. Businesses would also get funding, including under a new program to help bars and restaurants hurt by Covid lockdowns.
Rental, mortgage and food assistance: The legislation also includes a number of other provisions that would provide assistance for food and housing, including money for low-income Americans to afford rent and pay their utilities, and aid to homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages because of the pandemic.