The incoming Biden administration unveiled a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan Thursday that offers a wish list of spending measures meant to help both people and the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic, from state and local aid and more generous unemployment benefits to mass vaccinations.
Below, we run through a few of the biggest provisions, how they would work and what they might mean for the U.S. economy as it struggles through a winter of surging coronavirus cases and partial state and local lockdowns.
Let’s put that headline number in context.
That $1.9 trillion figure is a lot of money, to put it mildly. Congress passed a $900 billion relief program in December, and its package in March was also about $2 trillion. By way of comparison, the major financial crisis spending package — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — clocked in around $800 billion.
The administration is looking for $1,400 checks.
President-elect Joe Biden is trying to make good on Democrats’ promise to send more money to households in the form of one-time checks. Its proposal would send out $1,400 per person for those under certain income thresholds, topping off the $600 checks that came as part of the December relief package.
It also wants an unemployment insurance supplement of $400 a week.
Biden is asking Congress to extend emergency unemployment insurance programs through the end of September — they are set to expire in mid-March — while providing “a $400-per-week unemployment insurance supplement to help hard-hit workers.”
That amount is higher than what lawmakers included in the December stimulus, which provided a $300 supplement for 11 weeks, but it is lower than the $600 weekly benefit included in the first package in March.
Schools could get money to reopen.
The administration says it wants to make “the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority” of kindergarten to eighth-grade schools within Biden’s first 100 days in office.
Administration officials are suggesting $170 billion for schools, supplemented by additional state and local funds. About $130 billion of that would go toward reopening, while much of the rest of the money would go to help colleges dealing with the shift to distance learning and other pandemic-tied problems.
The minimum wage could rise.
After holding steady at $7.25 for more than a decade, the federal minimum wage would rise to $15 per hour under the proposal, which would also end the tipped minimum wage and subminimum wage for people with disabilities. Many states and localities have already raised their own wage floors. It is not clear how quickly the higher wage would phase in.
Research from the Congressional Budget Office in 2019 suggested that raising the wage to $15 nationally could increase pay for tens of millions of workers, though potentially at some cost to jobs — perhaps 1.3 million people who would otherwise work would not be, in part because employers would reduce payroll.
States and localities could get help.
Biden’s plan would provide $440 billion in help to communities, according to the administration, in addition to the funds for school reopening. The relief plan would entail billions in grants and loan programs for small businesses (how those would work is not entirely clear) and $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments.
State and local governments have had revenues decline less as a whole than once anticipated but have taken an uneven financial hit from the pandemic. They have significantly reduced payrolls, which is concerning because they employ about 13% of America’s workers.
Public health measures are at the fore.
Biden is asking for $160 billion in funding for a national vaccination program, expanded testing, a public health jobs program and other steps meant to fight the virus, according to the administration’s summary.
The plan would invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program “in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories” and would try to ensure that people can receive shots free regardless of immigration status. About $50 billion would go toward improving testing, and $40 billion would be earmarked for shoring up protective gear and supplies, deploying emergency response personnel and improving supply manufacturing.
The plan would expand paid leave.
Biden would renew paid leave provisions that were not extended as part of the December package, while eliminating exemptions for big and small employers. The plan would allow for 14 weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave for caregivers dealing with closed schools or care centers, while providing for a $1,400 leave benefit for eligible workers.
State and local governments and employers with fewer than 500 employees would be reimbursed for the costs via a refundable tax credit. Emergency leave provisions would last through the end of September.
Parents would get financial help.
The plan would temporarily increase the size of tax credits for more families and make them “refundable” — meaning people would get cash even if they do not earn enough to owe income taxes.
Under the expanded child care tax credit, families with children up to age 13 could receive a total of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children. Families making less than $125,000 per year would receive the full credit, while those earning up to $400,000 would receive a partial credit.