On a largely partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday (March 10) passed the Senate version of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill put forward by President Joe Biden. None of Arkansas’ six Congressional members voted for the bill.
HR 1319, known as The American Rescue Plan, was passed on a 220-211 vote and is expected to be signed Friday by President Biden. It is the third COVID-related relief action taken by Congress since March 2020.
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was approved by Congress in March to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic. A $1,200 stimulus check to many Americans and extra unemployment benefits of up to $600 per week were key parts of the CARES Act. Congress approved another relief bill in late December that included a $600 stimulus check and renewal of extra unemployment benefits of $300 per week.
In addition to almost $80 billion in fund more vaccine distribution and COVID testing, the following are key components of the American Rescue Plan.
• $1,400 stimulus checks
It is estimated that up to 85% of U.S. households will receive direct payments of $1,400 per person. Those checks are estimated to be sent out by late March.
• Unemployment benefits
The bill included $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits through September and allowing the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020 tax-free for U.S. households earning less than $150,000.
• Child tax credit
The tax credit rises 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. Democrats claim this provision will significantly reduce the number of children living in poverty.
• State, local government aid
The legislation provides $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments to cover deficits resulting from the pandemic. It also includes $130 billion to schools to help them reopen and/or improve ventilation and take other health safety measures. Universities will receive $40 billion in pandemic response assistance.
• Small business support
The legislation also sets aside almost $80 billion for small business support, including an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program and direct support for restaurants.
President Biden said passage of the legislation allows the nation to “move forward” with more resources to contain COVID and help the economy.
“For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard,” Biden noted in a statement. “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.”
Republicans in Congress opposed the legislation, arguing that previous COVID relief funds have not yet been spent, that the legislation was full of Democrats’ special interest funding not directly targeting the COVID response, and added too much to the federal deficit.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, referred to the bill as a “Pelosi Payoff,” a direct criticism of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Only 9% of the funding in this spending package is related to COVID relief while the other 91% fulfills the Democrats’ political wish list, including billions to bail out states that don’t need a bailout, stimulus checks for prisoners and illegal immigrants, and billions on education that cannot be spent until after 2021. We should be focused on getting Americans vaccinated, reopening our shuttered small businesses, and returning the economy to its full capacity. Sadly, to date, open borders, closed schools, unnecessary government spending, and partisanship have become the new normal under President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s tenure,” Hill said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said Democrats were being deceitful.
“Sadly, Democrats have imposed one of the most irresponsible spending packages of all time. Let’s be honest with the American people. They used the promise of a $1,400 stimulus as cover to recklessly finance their socialist agenda. Under careful examination, it’s very apparent that while supposedly purposed in COVID relief—a majority of this legislation has nothing to do with the pandemic. Instead of working with Republicans on targeted policy, Speaker Pelosi chose to borrow money from future generations to spend on a slew of far-left wants. We should be helping Americans get through a crisis, not leaving our children and grandchildren with mountains of debt for priorities unrelated to the coronavirus. By dangling shiny objects to distract from the true intent of their legislation, they’ve gotten away with a generational theft of a lifetime. It’s shameful.”