As I See It – $1.9T COVID-19 Relief Bill: Help is on the way!

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With the approval of the US Senate (50-49) of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 T COVID-19 relief bill, his famous phrase “Help is on the way” becomes a reality!

The bill will address urgent real issues of middle-class Americans and will help them restore their damaged status caused by the corona virus pandemic such as extended benefits for those who are unemployment; stimulus money for individuals earning gross income less than $75,000 a month; schools and local governments’ assistance; and support funds for small and medium-sized businesses.

The absence of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, due to a family emergency prevented Vice President Kamala Harris from having to break a tie in the 50-50 chamber, which she had to do to allow the Senate to begin debate on the bill. The bill passed 50- 49, along party lines with US Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia finally agreeing to support a provision backed by other Democrats that also allows the first $10,200 of the jobless benefits to be nontaxable for incomes up to $150,000.

A source familiar with the discussions said Biden was in touch with Manchin during the negotiations on the unemployment benefits compromise to ensure the bill will pass.

Manchin said after the vote: “Today the Senate passed a Covid-19 relief package that will help kill the Covid-19 pandemic and set us on the right track to economic recovery. I am proud to vote for this relief package and I look forward to seeing the president sign this bill into law.”

The Senate’s changes to the House-passed version of the plan include reducing the jobless benefits to $300 (from $400 in the House bill) and extending them slightly to September 6. The Senate limited eligibility for the $1,400 checks by capping the payments for those who make $80,000, or $160,000 for couples.

The plan would also provide $25 billion in rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households who have lost jobs during the pandemic. That is in addition to the $25 billion lawmakers provided in December.

Another $5 billion would be set aside to help struggling renters to pay their utility bills. Biden is also calling for $5 billion to help states and localities assist those at risk of experiencing homelessness.

The plan would extend the federal eviction moratorium, set to expire at the end of January, to September 30, as well as allow people with federally guaranteed mortgages to apply for forbearance until September 30.

There is also help for the hungry under the plan. Biden would extend the 15% increase in food stamp benefits through September, instead of having it expire in June. He would invest another $3 billion to help women, infants, and children secure food, and give US territories $1 billion in nutrition assistance. And he would partner with restaurants to provide food to needy Americans and jobs to laid-off restaurant workers.

The Senate also approved some modest and noncontroversial amendments offered by both parties before passing the final version.

So, the first major legislation of the Biden administration, to recap,  includes $1,400 stimulus checks, $300-per-week jobless benefits through the summer, a child allowance of up to $3,600 for one year, $350 billion for state aid, $34 billion to expand Affordable Care Act subsidies and $14 billion for vaccine distribution.

Biden called the aid package “urgently needed” and praised the Senate for passing it (50-49) Saturday, saying it will get “checks out the door” to Americans “this month.”

“The resources in this plan will be used to speed up manufacturing and distribution of the vaccines, so that we can get every American vaccinated sooner rather than later,” he said.

Biden praised the Senate and hailed the measure’s “overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people,” referring to polling that indicates the legislation is broadly popular.

It was observed that the vote was a critical early test for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s ability to keep all 50 Democrats unified behind a major piece of legislation “despite being an ideologically and regionally diverse caucus.”

The New York Democrat told reporters: “From the beginning, we said this: We had to pass this legislation. We made a promise to the American people that we were going to deliver the real relief they needed. And now we have fulfilled that promise.”

In reaction to the bill’s approval, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, “blasted Democrats for taking a partisan approach and argued that they would not deserve credit for the economic recovery.”

The amended bill will go back to the House for final approval on Monday and on Tuesday, they will vote for the final version of the revised bill which will likely be approved by the Democrat-dominated House.

The House Democrats are expected to pass the final version of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Tuesday or Wednesday, thus delivering on Democrats’ campaign promises and cementing a major legislative victory for the Biden administration.

Expectedly, Democrats are eager to get the final bill to Biden’s desk for his signature before current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

In a statement on Saturday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he expects the president to be able to sign the legislation early this week.

The Maryland Democrat added: “Democrats are delivering on our promise to take action to defeat this virus and provide the assistance the American people need until our economy can reopen safely and fully.”

Also, on Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California said that the package, known as the American Rescue Plan, will “save lives and livelihoods.”

Unlike in the Senate where there is a 50-50 composition, the House hopes to have a bipartisan vote on this life-saving legislation. While in the majority, Speaker Pelosi urged Republicans to join them “in recognition of the devastating reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis and of the need for decisive action.”

Fellow Americans, “Help is on the way!”

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.

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