By Miriam Raftery
Photo, left, via C-Span: President Joe Biden signs the American Recovery Act
March 17,2021 (San Diego) – The American Recovery Act signed into law last week by President Joe Biden will provide $1.9 trillion to aid those impacted by COVID-19 and provide an economic boost.
The measure includes a new round of stimulus checks of up to $1,400 for most Americans, up to $2,800 for couples and additional help for families with children, extension of unemployment benefits just days before benefits would run out, and aid to some business sectors hard-hit by the pandemic. The new law also funds vaccinations, reopening schools, and aid to local, state and tribal governments for COVID-19 related costs.
East County’s Congressional representatives split their votes down party lines, with Democrats Sara Jacobs and Juan Vargas voting in favor, while Republican Darrell Issa voted against the landmark COVID-19 relief bill.
The members each provided statements to justify their votes.
Below are highlights of their remarks, followed by a summary of what the bill includes.
“President Biden's comprehensive legislative package will deliver immediate relief to working individuals and support communities struggling with the public health crisis and economic fallout,” says Congressman Vargas. “"Help is on the way! I applaud President Biden for signing the American Rescue Plan into law today. The American Rescue Plan will put vaccines in arms, our children safely back in school, money in people's pockets, and people back to work. I'm optimistic that the historic legislative package will save lives and livelihoods in California's 51st District and across the nation.”
The new law includes language from two bills authored by Vargas. Language from H.R. 1720 COVID-19 Medical Production Act will provide $10 billion in additional appropriations for the Defense Production Act to fund testing, personal protective equipment, and vaccine production to combat COVID-19. Language from H.R. 1719 Emergency Tribal Housing Assistance Act, will appropriate $750 million to support tribal people experiencing, or on the brink of homelessness. It will also fund tribal programs to prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Without additional government assistance, the economic and public health crises could worsen,” adds Vargas. “Many of the people living in my district are essential workers that do not have the privilege to work from home or the technology to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine. The American Rescue Plan will help crush the virus with a national vaccination plan that includes setting up community vaccination sites nationwide—including in rural communities. The American Rescue Plan also addresses the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and ensures that federal relief reaches underserved communities. The plan will also support the hardest-hit small businesses— especially those owned by entrepreneurs of color that have experienced systemic discrimination.”
Congresswoman Sara Jacobs says, “The American Rescue Plan will save lives, jobs, and businesses, and I was proud to vote for it. I am particularly excited that this bill makes significant investments in America’s kids, cutting childhood poverty in half by expanding the Child Tax Credit and allocating $39 billion for child care to help working families. I was proud to fight for these important provisions and am so happy they will be signed into law…My colleagues and I pushed for a bill that meets this moment and that would make a big difference for America’s kids. This bill delivers.”
She adds, “This recovery isn’t about going back to the way things were, which already wasn’t working for too many families. My colleagues and I were elected in the midst of a national crisis and tasked with rebuilding and reimagining a struggling economy. This has been a year of pain, loss, and hardship for so many Americans – from losing loved ones and livelihoods, dealing with isolation, and adjusting to new economic realities and undue burdens that have hit those who could least afford it the hardest. That’s why the White House and my Democratic colleagues in Congress made this bill a priority.”
Jacobs concludes on a note of optimism: “We are going to crush this virus and come back stronger. Help is on the way, and things are going to get better.”
But Congressman Darrell Issa slammed the bill as a partisan effort.
“Combatting COVID-19 is a national imperative that must include allowing access to the vaccine to all Americans who choose to receive it, rebuilding our economy and reopening our schools right away,” he says.
But he adds, “Even though all five previous COVID spending bills of 2020 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, the new Democratic majority abandoned this positive approach and instead used a special process specifically designed to avoid consensus. Still, Republicans offered more than 600 amendments to the bill, but their goodwill participation was comprehensively rejected. This divisive approach leaves the country with a package that the White House touts as `the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation.’
Issa levels specific criticism of the landmark law, stating, “Only one percent of the bill relates to vaccinations, less than nine percent for related public health programs and five percent to reopen K-12 schools in 2021 Worst of all, the bill contains no coherent commitment to fully reopening our economy, getting Americans back to work and our kids back in school.”
He concludes, “Thankfully, the vaccines are here, and they are safe and effective. It is time to reopen the country and our policy choices should focus on that goal.”
Highlights of what the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill includes:
- $1,400 per person for individuals earning under $75,000
- $2,800 for married couples earning under $150,000
- $1,400 per dependent
- Payments would decrease for those earning above those levels, with nothing for those earning more than $80,000 for individuals or $160,000 for married couples
- Extends unemployment benefits through early September
- Extends the $300 a week supplemental unemployment benefit previously approved due to the pandemic
- Waives federal income taxes on the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits in 2020 for households earning less than $150,000
Targeted business relief
- A $28.6 billion revitalization fund for restaurants will provide grants of up to $5 million each to hep restaurants recoup pandemic-related revenues losses
- $1.25 billion in grants are included for event venues, such as concert venues and theaters, following a “Save Our Stages” lobbying effort
- $3 billion to the aviation industry hard-hit by reduced travel
Child Tax Credit
- Temporarily raises the child tax credit, currently up to $2,000 for all minors. Under the bill, that would increase to up to $3,600 for children under age 5 and up to $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17 in a major effort to reduce child poverty.
More help for families and workers
- Expands child and dependent care tax credit for 2021
- Expands earned-income tax credit for workers without children for 2021
- Temporarily increase subsidies for buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, such as Covered California
- Provides billions of dollars to fund veterans’ health care and public health programs
- Covers full cost of COBRA premiums through September to help those who lost jobs keep health insurance through their former employer
- Exempts student loan forgiveness from income taxes
Schools and local governments
- Provides $350 billion for states, local governments, territories and tribal governments
- Funds vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing
- Allocates $130 billion to help K-12 schools reopen
- Additional funds are provided for colleges and universities
- Funds are also included for housing assistance, food aid, transit agencies and childcare providers