Joe Biden declared his intention to move swiftly to sign a coronavirus relief bill into law, proposing a package that includes direct cash payments for Americans reeling with the fallout from the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.
Under the plan Biden outlined Thursday evening, most Americans will get a $1,400 cash infusion while people collecting unemployment will get an additional $400 a week in additional aid. The president-elect is also proposing more than doubling the federal minimum wage to $15.
“A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight. There is no time to waste. We have to act, and we have to act now,” Biden said on Thursday. “We cannot afford inaction.”
The American Rescue Plan, as Biden is calling it, is the first of two packages he intends to introduce in his first 100 days in office. (The second half of the equation, which will include investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy, and the “caregiving economy,” Biden plans to detail when he addresses Congress in February.)
The $1,400 check Biden announced on Thursday is meant to be viewed as in addition to the $600 recently passed by Congress for a total of $2,000 — the figure first proposed by Trump in December, and promised by Biden if Democrats managed to win the two Senate seats in Georgia. “We will finish the job of getting a total of $2,000 of cash relief to people who need it the most,” Biden said. “The $600 already appropriated is simply not enough.”
In addition to the $1,400 direct payments, Biden announced he would seek $400 per week for unemployed Americans. It’s assistance that is desperately needed — just hours before his speech on Thursday, the Department of Labor announced 965,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims last week — the biggest jump since the pandemic began in March.
The plan also contains an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — more than double the $7.25 figure where it has languished for more than a decade. Biden’s former rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, cheered the provision, calling the direct payments and increase in minimum wage “a very strong first installment” of a relief plan. Rita Blalock, a 54-year-old employee of a McDonalds in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a member of the grassroots organization Fight for $15, said she was “thrilled” with Biden’s proposal.
“For me, $15 an hour would be life changing,” Blalock said in a statement. “It’s a struggle to pay rent on the single room where I stay. Even getting enough to eat is a struggle sometimes. I am 54 years old and I have been working all my life, but $10 an hour is the most I’ve ever been paid.” She said she hoped Congress would move swiftly to pass the increase. “We cannot and will not return to the status quo after the pandemic is over, because the status quo isn’t working for us. Essential workers all across the country need relief.”
The plan includes a national vaccination program, with has the goal of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. Biden characterized the current vaccine rollout, during which just 11.1 million Americans have received at least their first dose, as a “dismal failure.” Four thousand deaths related to the coronavirus were reported in the United States on Thursday, the second day in a row, for a total of nearly 386,000 deaths to date.
Before the details of the plan were released Thursday, members of Biden’s team telegraphed that the plan would be narrowly tailored, in the hopes to convincing Republicans in the Senate to sign on to the bill. Some have already expressed support for direct cash payments, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley. Rubio outlined his interest in $2,000 checks in a letter to Biden last week, and in December, before he tried to undermine Biden’s election, Hawley tried to force a vote on inserting a provision for direct cash payments of $1,200 into the last covid relief bill. (His effort was blocked by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.) Sen. Lindsey Graham likewise made a show of supporting the $2,000 checks when Trump called for for them in late December
It’s unclear whether incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will schedule the package for a vote before the chamber holds its impeachment trial for Donald Trump. Biden, for his part, struck a hopeful tone Thursday, even as he took the long view on the current crises — health, economic, political. “We didn’t get into all this overnight,” Biden said. “We won’t get out of it overnight. And we can’t do it as a separated and divided nation. The only way we can do it is to come together.”