President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal on Thursday evening that aims to combat the coronavirus and begins to pump up a U.S. economy severely battered by the worst pandemic to strike the globe in a century.
In an address to the nation from his hometown of Wilmington, Del., Biden spelled out his plans to speed the nation’s COVID vaccination program, boost coronavirus testing capacity to help reopen businesses and schools, provide for $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans and federal funds for state and local governments to use to avoid laying off police officers, firefighters and other first responders, as well as teachers and health workers.
Biden labeled it his "American Rescue Plan."
"We not only have an economic imperative to act now -- I believe we have a moral obligation," Biden said during a televised address. But he acknowledged the price tag will be high.
Biden said his plan "does not come cheaply."
On Wednesday, hours before the president-elect was set to speak, senior officials from the incoming Biden administration put the overall tab at $1.9 trillion. Over $1 trillion of that total price tag is for direct relief to individuals and families.
Officials said the package includes “sending $1,400 per-person checks to households across America, providing direct housing and nutrition assistance, expanding access to safe and reliable childcare and affordable healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance, and giving families with kids and childless workers an emergency boost this year.”
Another $440 billion would be targeted to support communities and businesses that are struggling amid the pandemic “by providing support for the hardest-hit small businesses, especially small businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color, and protecting the jobs of the first responders, transit workers, and other essential workers we depend on,” a senior official said.
An additional $400 billion would be aimed at directly combating the coronavirus. It includes $20 billion to beef up the speed and scale of the national COVID vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, which officials said was critical to the reopening of schools and businesses, $30 billion for the disaster relief fund, which includes providing protective gear to frontline workers, and funding 100,000 public health workers to work in local communities and expanding health services for populations currently underserved.
Among other things, Biden’s plan would also extend and expand unemployment insurance benefits “so American workers can pay their bills” and would push to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The president-elect last week emphasized, “If we don’t act now things are going to get much worse and harder to get out of the hole later. So we have to invest now.”
Biden highlighted that the “overwhelming consensus among the leading economists left, right and center, is that in order to keep the economy from collapsing this year and getting much, much worse, we should be investing significant amounts of money right now to grow the economy. And that’s a pretty wide consensus.”
His address to the nation comes new cases of the virus continue to surge across the country. More than 385,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic swept the nation nearly a year ago. More than 22.7 million people in the U.S. have been infected with the virus since it first struck. And on Tuesday, more than 4,300 deaths nationally were linked to the virus, a new one-day high.
Biden – as he received his second COVID vaccination shot on Monday – said that on Thursday he would be “laying out the plan, the cost of how I want to proceed, the cost of what we have to do to be able to get the entire COVID operation up and running.”
He lamented that “3,000 to 4,000 people a day dying is just beyond the pale. It’s just wrong.” And the president-elect stressed that “we can do a lot to change it, number one. It’s going to be hard, it’s not going to be easy, but we can get it done.”
Senior Biden administration officials highlighted that they and the president-elect have “done a lot of consultation with members of Congress and we have spent a lot of time speaking to and listening to governors and mayors and we think there is a broad understanding of the urgency of the moment, of the immediacy of the crisis, and the need to act and so we’re hopeful that the ideas that are laid out here and the action that is reflected here is something that there’s a lot of support for.”
Looking to the long-stalled COVID relief plan that was passed by Congress late last month – which included $600 payments to Americans – the officials their “strategy is to make the case clearly to the American people about the immediacy of the need and to work to try to build on the spirit of bipartisanship that helped to bring together action in December. But that was just a down payment.”
President Trump late last year temporarily refused to sign the bipartisan compromise into law, as he called for $2,000 relief payments to Americans. Biden and congressional Democrats also pushed for a increase to $2,000. Biden’s new plans gets the total direct relief to Americans to the $2,000 level.
As he campaigned for the White House last year, Biden pledged to battle the pandemic more seriously than Trump and promised to have a plan ready to go at the start of his administration. And the plan he unveils on Thursday aims to make his pledge a reality.
The senior Biden administration officials didn’t say when they hoped for congressional passage of the plan, but they stressed that the “need is immediate. And the urgency is increasing.”
But passing the mammoth package through an extremely divided Congress won't be easy. The plan is considered "emergency spending," which means it won't be offset. Republicans will likely object to a further widening of the already massive federal deficit.
And the Biden officials emphasized that the $1.9 trillion rescue plan is the first of two proposals, and that incomign president would unveil a large jobs and economic recovery plan in the coming weeks. Republicans in the Senate may likely balk when faced with two massive relief packages.
Fox News' Madeleine Rivera and Allie Raffa contributed to this story.