WASHINGTON, D.C. (NewsNation Now) — The Senate is expected to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes, which will likely lead to approval of a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
If approved, the bill will have to be sent back to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for final passage. Democrats hope President Joe Biden can sign the bill into law before March 14, when some of the current benefits run out.
In a nutshell, the package works on three areas: pandemic response, direct relief to struggling families and support for communities and small businesses.
NewsNation’s research team looked into each part of the package. There have been moving parts as Congressional leaders have debated various parts of the bill.
- National vaccination program: The plan invests $20 billion toward a vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories. That effort includes propping up community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units in remote areas.
- Expanded testing: The proposal allocates $50 billion to expand testing, cover the purchase of rapid tests, expand lab capacity and help schools and local governments with testing protocols.
- Emergency paid leave: The plan calls for expanding access to emergency paid leave for millions of Americans and paid sick and family and medical leave for parents juggling child care responsibilities.
- School funding: The proposal sets aside $130 billion to help schools reopen. The funds can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces for social distancing, improve ventilation and provide personal protective equipment. In higher education, roughly $35 billion in funding would go to public institutions, including community colleges and historically Black colleges.
- Health workers: The proposal also funds 100,000 public health workers to carry out vaccine outreach and contact tracing. It also seeks to tackle health disparities, particularly in communities of color that have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic. The proposal includes funding for health services in underserved populations, including on tribal lands.
DIRECT RELIEF TO STRUGGLING FAMILIES
- Stimulus checks: The proposal covers a third round of stimulus checks, this time for $1,400. Disagreement over the size of the second round of stimulus checks nearly imperiled the previous stimulus package after former President Donald Trump held up signing the bill over his demands for larger checks. Many Republican lawmakers have opposed $2,000 total payments, saying the larger checks would benefit too many families with high incomes who are not bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. Individuals earning up to $75,000 — and couples up to $150,000 — would get $1,400 checks per person. The version the House approved last Saturday would gradually phase down those amounts and reach zero for individuals making $100,000 and couples earning $200,000. However, under an agreement on March 3 in the Senate, those checks would end for individuals making $80,000 and couples earning $160,000. (Updated 3/5/21)
- Expanded unemployment benefits: The $900 billion law passed by lawmakers in December provided $300 in unemployment benefits through mid-March, raising concerns about a looming cliff while millions of Americans were still out of work and many jobs, particularly those in service sectors, may not return until the health crisis ends. The Biden plan originally increased the benefits to $400 per week and extended the program through Aug. 29. However, on March 5, Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal to lower the benefit to $300 per week, but extend the benefits to Sept. 6. The first $10,200 would be tax-free. Biden’s proposal would also extend assistance for people who have exhausted their regular benefits, as well as those who do not typically qualify for unemployment insurance programs, including self-employed people and gig workers. (Updated 3/5/21)
- Eviction protection: The plan extends eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to the end of September. Biden is also proposing an additional $25 billion in rental assistance on top of the $25 billion allocated in the bill passed by Congress in December. It also calls for $5 billion to help people cover home energy and water costs and $5 billion in emergency assistance to find housing for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.
- Addressing the hunger crisis: The Biden proposal extends the 15 percent increase in monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits approved by lawmakers last month to the end of September. The plan also covers a $3 billion investment in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
- Minimum wage: Biden’s proposal also calls on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That was pulled out of the Senate plan on March 5, a week after the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian ruled it had to be dropped from the bill. (Updated 3/5/21)
- Expand child tax credit: The plan includes a significant expansion of an existing tax credit for children in poor and middle-class households. Biden is calling for the child tax credit to be fully refundable for the year and to increase the credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for a child under age 6) and make 17 year-olds qualifying children for the year.
SUPPORT FOR COMMUNITIES AND SMALL BUSINESSES
- Help for small businesses: The plan provides $15 billion in grants for small businesses. The proposal would also attempt to leverage $35 billion in funds into $175 billion for loans for small businesses.
- Aid to local governments: Biden is pushing for $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial governments to keep front-line workers paid, distribute vaccines, increase testing and reopen schools. Democrats have long pushed for direct relief for state and local governments facing serious budget shortfalls, including in places that rely heavily on the tourism or energy industries. Republicans have resisted calls for state and local aid, saying it should only be approved as part of a package that includes sweeping legal protections for firms from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
- Relief for transit systems: The proposal calls for $20 billion toward hard-hit transit agencies that will keep workers on the payrolls and avoid service cuts.
- Supporting tribal governments: Biden’s plan would direct $20 billion to support tribal governments’ pandemic response and increase access to personal protective equipment, Internet connectivity, clean water and electricity in Indian Country.
Reuters contributed to this report.