What Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill means for the Mid-South

COVID-19 relief bill passes through house

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $1.9 trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill, aimed at helping millions of Americans.

It implements President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to get control of the coronavirus pandemic and return the country to some sense of normalcy.

“We have no time to waste. If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving again,” Biden said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said the bill is designed to help lower-income people.

“People, in general, are suffering in this economy. They’ve lost jobs and they’ve lost income,” said Cohen. “This is more targeted toward the lower-income people, specifically targeted for restaurants in that regard. But there’s more targeting, more money for SNAP payments and I think it’s going to be much more effective. It’s a big program and I’m proud to have voted for it.”

The bill provides $1,400 stimulus checks for Mid-Southerners making less than $75,000 (and married couples making up to $150,000.

It extends federal unemployment programs through Aug. 29 and increases weekly federal unemployment payments to $400 from $300.

It also includes a $3,000 per child tax credit for children ages 6-17 ($3,600 for each child under age 6).

In addition, it provides:

  • $25 billion in grants for restaurants and bars
  • $30 billion for emergency rental assistance
  • $20 billion for the vaccine program
  • $50 billion for COVID-19 testing

The bill also provides billions to help schools reopen and provides relief for state and local governments facing budget challenges.

“Sales tax, which state governments and local governments depend on, went down. There were a lot more expenses. Police and fire on a local level did a lot more work. They had a lot more people out because of COVID, so the ones that worked worked overtime,” Cohen said. “There were a lot of expenses for the public sector that otherwise would not have occurred.”

Not a single Republican in the House voted for the bill.

West Tennessee Republican Congressman David Kustoff said the bill included a lot of wasteful spending.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we should prioritize safely reopening schools and the economy and speeding up vaccine distribution, but we should also spend the remaining one trillion dollars from the previous COVID-19 relief packages before considering another big federal stimulus package,” Cohen said.

The bill also increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour. But that likely won’t become law.

Democrats in the Senate are using a special legislative procedure known as reconciliation to pass the bill without Republican support. (Democrats control the Senate 51-50, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote).

But the reconciliation process has its limitations, which Democrats learned the hard way.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the $15 per hour minimum wage provision in the House bill violates Senate budgetary rules.

“The Senate, in order to pass the $15 minimum wage, would probably have to come up with 60 votes and there aren’t enough Democrats to get anywhere close to 60 votes,” said WMC political analyst Michael Nelson.

Democrats hope to get the bill to Biden’s desk by mid-March.

Democrats are vowing to continue pushing for the $15 minimum wage increase if it is stripped from the bill.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the relief package a “liberal wish list.”

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