U.S. House approves $1.9 trillion stimulus package

March 15-21, 2021

By Wesley Brown


Near 50 days after President Joe Biden took office, Congress took the final step in approving a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to keep the U.S. economy on steady ground and deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to more than 300 million Americans by May.


House Resolution 1319, known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, was approved Wednesday largely along party lines in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 211 yeas and 201 nays. The bill was approved largely along party lines with all Democratic lawmakers supporting the stimulus package except one.


There were no Republicans that supported HR 1319, including Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock and Arkansas’ three other House representatives. After the slim Senate margin of 50-49 on Saturday, the bill now goes to President Biden’s for approval, where the Democratic president is expected to sign the 591-page bill into law on Friday.


Biden pointed to several recent polls touting overwhelming public support for his first major legislative victory after being sworn in on Jan. 20. The Democratic president said his rescue plan would create an estimated 6 million new jobs and expand the nation’s Gross Domestic Product by a trillion dollars. In February, the U.S. unemployment rate remains at 6.2%, compared to 3.5% a year ago. U.S. GDP expanded at a rate of 4.1% in the fourth quarter, closing out 2020 at 2.3% growth.


“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 said in a statement after the House vote.


“Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85% of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half,” Biden continued.


“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,” said the nation’s 46th president.


Among many things, about $17 billion of Biden’s rescue plan budget would be spent on vaccine-related activities and programs, according to the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Another $110 billion will be spent on separate efforts to contain the fast-spreading COVID-19 virus and new variants will add another $110 billion to the bill. 


About $48 billion of that total will go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services for coronavirus detection, testing and monitoring.  HHS, the nation’s second-largest bureaucracy behind the Department of Defense, houses the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and about 10 other related federal agencies that are also involved in COVID-19 related activities.


Another $47 billion will increase funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief fund to purchase COVID-19 supplies and protective gear and to cover funeral expenses for the more than 500,000 million Americans that have died from the pandemic.


The centerpiece cutout of the bill includes a $1,400 stimulus check as a tax rebate for most taxpayers and individuals making less than $75,000 annually, and lower tiered amounts for those making slightly higher incomes. Married couples who filed joint tax returns will receive two $1,400 checks if their annual income is below $150,000.


After the bill is signed into law, the IRS could begin delivering the third round of stimulus checks in the past year within one to two weeks, based on the time frame of the $1,200 and $600 economic impact payments under former President Donald Trump. That means, some individuals and families could  potentially get stimulus funds deposited into their checking accounts as early as the middle of this week.


Also, children and adult independents, including college students and people with disabilities, are also eligible for the $1,400 stimulus payment under the Biden plan. The Democratic payment to most working-class American families and individuals will cost taxpayers about $422 billion compared to earlier combined stimulus payments of $459 billion under former President Donald Trump.


The Biden plan will also make the federal child tax fully refundable for the year. Today, the tax credit is $2,000 annually. Under Biden’s plan, it would increase to as much as $3,600 per child under the age of six and up to $3,000 for children up to 17 years of age. The funds would come in monthly installments.


In the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed by Trump on March 27, 2020, the first $1,200 advance economic impact payments to most American families making less than $75,000 annually costs taxpayers costs taxpayers nearly $293 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office estimates. The latter $900 billion stimulus bill approved by Congress on Dec. 27 includes another $600 stimulus check that will cost the federal government about $166 billion.


The IRS is expected to begin sending out those advance payments to most taxpayers by xxxx, administration officials said. Biden’s omnibus rescue package also extends enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week that were set to expire on March 14 through the end of August. The earlier House version included a boost in those benefits to $400 per week but that measure was stripped out by moderate Democrats.


Also, a core objective of Biden’s rescue plans was to get new funding for the safe reopening of public schools. The bill includes roughly $130 billion that is dedicated to public schools that can be used for a variety of purposes, including for some purposes other than re-opening. These funds would be on top of the $54 billion allocated for K-12 public schools in December’s Response and Relief Act and the $17 billion in the CARES Act, most of which remains unspent.


Biden’s stimulus plan also includes several levels of childcare assistance, including $39 billion through federal block grant funding. This new funding would be available for this year and the next two fiscal years, but at least half of the funds would be required to be used by the end of 2021. There is also a 15% increase in funding for the first six months of 2021 to an estimated 40 million people that are homeless or near to losing their primary residence. That will cost taxpayers nearly $40.2 billion through June 2021 through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the federal Food Stamp program.


“We’re one step closer to helping millions of Americans feed their families and keep a roof over their head.  We’re one step closer to getting our kids safely back in school,” Biden said during Saturday’s White House briefing. “And we’re one step closer to getting state and local governments the money they need to prevent massive layoffs for essential workers.


The legislation includes $30 billion in emergency rental assistance, including $5 billion to help struggling renters pay their high utility bills for the recent winter storms. The extra $25 billion for rental assistance doubles the amount approved by Congress in the earlier COVID-19 appropriations approved by Congress in late December. The bill also extends another eviction moratorium until the end of September 2021. 


After Congress and former President Trump approved nearly a $1.5 trillion in CARES Act bailout funds and loans for small businesses and hard-hit industries through the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Treasury, Biden’s rescue package offers fewer stimulus giveaways to Wall Street.


Under Biden’s plan, the Democratic president said he would provide small businesses with about $50 billion in funding they need to reopen and rebuild. Nationally, small business revenue is down 32%, administration officials said, with at least 400,000 firms have permanently closed. 


Also, a new $15 billion grant program for small businesses would be created, separate from the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that has provided forgivable loans to keep small businesses afloat. That program, which began on April Fool’s Day nearly a year ago, will officially end on March 31. The program is now winding down, allowing only businesses with fewer than 20 employees to apply for loans.


In addition, Biden said he wants to work with Congress to make sure that restaurants, bars, and other businesses that have suffered disproportionately have sufficient support to bridge to the recovery, including receiving grants and other assistance through the federal Community Credit Corp, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).


And unlike the two earlier stimulus bills under the Trump administration, Biden’s omnibus stimulus bill includes $350 billion in direct fiscal relief for both state and local governments who have experienced significant budget shortfalls because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the $2.2 trillion CARES act, Arkansas and the other 49 states split $150 billion in emergency COVID-19 relief aid, but local municipalities, cities and counties did not receive any directing funding.


In hearing the news of the fresh funding for many of the nation’s largest cities that have seen large budget deficits amid the pandemic, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) said it has been calling on Congress to help the cities who have been on the front lines of this crisis but seen little support to date.


“This bill will allow us to overcome the pandemic and move into a new phase of recovery,” USCM President and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said on Feb. 27.  




 The U.S. House of Representative on March 10 approved President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Arkansas' congressional delegation, including Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, voted against the measure.