On Wednesday, March 10 Congress passed a third COVID-19 relief package under the title, the American Rescue Plan, which allocates $1.9 trillion and was passed in a 220 to 211 House vote. The bill, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign on Friday, is the most expensive single bill in United States history, and the largest since the Great Depression. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the key factors set to help Americans recoup from the pandemic, nearly one year after its onset.
Concern over the amount of money given in stimulus checks has been a back-and-forth debate the last year. The first check, which began appearing in peoples’ mailboxes and checking accounts in April 2020, provided $1,200 for individuals earning between $75,000 and $100,000 and $2,400 for married couples with a joint annual gross income between $150,000 and $200,000. Families also received an additional $500 for each dependent 16 years old or younger. The second check, which was approved in December 2020 in a $900 billion relief bill, held the same qualifications and gave single people up to $600 and married couples up to $1,200, with the added $600 per dependent under the age of 16.
The third and most recent stimulus bill offers singles $1,400 and married couples $2,800, and an additional $1,400 per dependent – the largest stimulus check Americans have yet to receive. However, the qualification restrictions also grew tighter, only allowing full payments for singles making under $75,000 per year, single parents making $120,000 or less, and couples with household incomes equating to $160,000 or less eligible to obtain the check.
One major difference in this stimulus check is the eligibility of college students and elderly people living in the household of a family member. As long as the student is a taxpayer, regardless of being a dependent, they will receive the $1,400 check – even though it will be granted to the parent of the dependent. Older relatives living under the roof and care of another family member can also receive the stimulus check, which will go to the qualifying taxpayer. Parents with a baby born in 2021 will be given an additional $1,400 for each baby as well.
The American Rescue Plan makes a note of helping those living with housing insecurity. In the near $45 billion dedicated solely to ensuring an equal opportunity for every American to have safe and secure housing, the plan outlines a multitude of different scenarios. With it, almost $22 billion will be given to emergency rental assistance and nearly $10 billion is aimed to help with mortgages, utilities, and other costs. To be eligible for this type of assistance, household income cannot be greater than 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial turmoil as a result of the pandemic. Priority assistance will be granted to lower-income families who have been on unemployment for at least three months.
Further, $5 billion will provide relief for homeless people, helping them find a place to sleep in shelters and motels and an additional $5 billion for emergency housing to help people on the verge of becoming homeless as well as domestic abuse victims seeking refuge. $100 million will be provided towards housing cancelling to keep people from losing their homes.
Small Business Assistance
Right at the start of the COVID-19 recession in February 2020, the United States unemployment rate was at 3.5 percent, eventually rising to 14.8 percent during its peak in April 2020. Now, one year after the virus made its way around the country, the unemployment rate has fallen back down to 6.2 percent. Though it is drastically lower than it was at the peak of the virus, it is still nearly double what we saw just before the pandemic storm hit. Of those, small businesses took some of the hardest hits.
This bill offers $28.6 billion for restaurant relief, aiming to help get restaurants back on their feet following a year of closures, restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining, and capacity limits. It further authorizes another $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to help small businesses continue to pay their workers. As long as 60 percent of the money given to businesses goes to payroll expenses, while the remainder supports mortgage interest, rent, utilities, or personal protective equipment, the loans granted by the program remain forgivable. Weekly unemployment payments of $300 have also been extended until September 2021.
The State Small Business Credit Initiative allocates $10 billion for state governments to make investments to help recover small businesses. The legislation also offers $15 billion to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which assists small businesses in underserved areas, with an increased focus on those that are owned by minorities. Finally, another $15 billion will be granted to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants Program, which intends to provide aid for closed venues including museums, theaters, and concert halls.
Perhaps some of the most heartbreaking and damaging results of the pandemic have derived from the inability of students to return to school across the board. The American Rescue Plan, in total, is providing $168 billion to educational facilities of all levels. Of that, $126 billion is going towards grades K-12, aiming to reopen schools while simultaneously catching students up on what they’ve missed since last being in person. For higher educational institutions such as colleges, universities, and vocational programs, the legislation offers them $40 billion. As for the rest of the money, $2.75 billion goes to governors to share with private schools, $3 billion goes to supporting students with learning disabilities, $1 billion goes to national service programs such as tutoring programs, and $800 million goes to supporting education for homeless children.
Other key initiatives have been accounted for in the $1.9 trillion relief package, including:
- $14 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution
- $49 billion for expanded COVID-19 testing and research
- $10 billion for state infrastructure projects
- $350 billion to local, state, and tribal governments
- $30 billion for transit agencies
In a statement released by the White House, Biden says he looks forward to signing the bill on Friday. “This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” he said. Hopefully many struggling Americans can feel a sense of relief knowing the American Rescue Plan was passed.