Defeat the pandemic, uplift the economy, and bring children out of poverty. These are the expectations Joe Biden and the Democrats have set for their latest covid relief plan, accounting for a whopping $1.9 trillion, which passed the House 220-211 on Wednesday. Not a single Republican vote facilitated its passing, although one Democrat did vote against it. Biden is expected to sign the bill before the weekend.
The stimulus eligibility for this bill has been somewhat adjusted since the last package received so much backlash. The “American Rescue Plan,” as it is sometimes referred to, places new income restrictions for eligible households based on adjusted gross income. Individuals with AGI maxing out at $75,000 will be eligible, and couples with an AGI of $150,000 or less will also be eligible for one-time checks of $1400. Similar to previous rounds of handouts, those exceeding these numbers will still receive some money, although in lesser amounts. Individuals bringing in $80,000 and couples at $160,000 will receive no checks; for people filing their taxes as head of household, the bill says checks will be reduced at $112,500 and fully eliminated at $120,000.
Distribution is to be based on 2020 tax returns. If they have yet to be filed, 2019 returns will likely be used as the default.
Previous relief bills have had further exclusions beyond income levels, but Biden’s plan is much more inclusive. The last two rounds did not count those who were claimed as dependents as eligible. This time around, however, dependents will still earn checks – those checks will just be sent to the person filing rather than the person claimed as a dependent. According to an estimate by the Tax Foundation, this amendment to previous bills accounts for an increase of nearly $400 million eligible people.
Prisoners will also receive payments, despite major pushback from Republican lawmakers and the IRS. A federal judge dismissed the case of Scholl v. Mnuchin, deeming it “arbitrary,” and allowing the prisoners to receive checks. Prisoners also received checks in the first and second rounds of distribution. Some immigrants will also qualify for relief checks. Those with valid Social Security numbers, green cards, or work visas will receive their stimulus money accordingly. However, undocumented immigrants, nonresidents, and temporary workers are still not eligible.
In addition to relief checks, unemployment benefits will continue to see an extra push. The added $300 weekly federal benefit was extended through September 6. On top of that, the first $10,200 of benefits will be noted as tax-free if a household’s income falls below $150,000. For a person beginning the unemployment process now $10,200 will take exactly 34 weeks to accrue, which will take until November to be delivered.
Families are also offered “child allowances” to help cover any expenses related to their children. Those with children ages six and under will receive an additional $300 every month, or $3600 a year. After age six and up to age 17, the annual allowance slightly lowers to $250 monthly, for a total of $3000 per calendar year.
Naturally, Democrats are all smiles after passing what they consider to be landmark legislation. The White House announced the bill’s passage through the House on Twitter, with Joe Biden following shortly after simply saying “Help is here.” Nancy Pelosi was delighted in signing the bill, comparing it to ObamaCare in terms of magnitude. "The American Rescue plan is a force for fairness and justice in America," Pelosi said before the vote. "This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have the opportunity to support."
On the flip side, Republicans are not very pleased with the passing of this bill especially in the way it was done. Biden came into office preaching his desire for bipartisan politics and plans that both parties could get behind. Yet, this bill is a perfect example that his words may have been just that: words, lacking any merit or truth, and that Republicans in a Democrat-dominated government will continue to be steamrolled over and denied a proper platform.
The consensus among the Republican party is that the bill is, first and foremost, simply too large. There is too much money involved, and the GOP is worried about the future of the nation while Biden chooses to hemorrhage funds needed for other endeavors. "Why would we print and borrow $2 trillion when we're so close to crushing this virus and returning to a way of life that all Americans sacrificed?" quipped Lloyd Smucker, a representative from Pennsylvania. His thought process alines with many other Republican-run states, many of which lifted their mask protocols and began opening up as normal this month.
In addition to the concerns about overspending, Republicans caution that this covid relief package could just be a front for the Democrats to push their agenda. Below the surface of the “American Rescue Plan” simmers a hot mess of Democratic plans to upset the balance of the nation. "This isn’t a rescue bill. It isn’t a relief bill. It’s a laundry list of leftwing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families,” suggests Kevin McCarthy, a Republican representative from California, currently serving as House Minority Leader.
It is unclear whether the merits of the relief bill meet the needs of families, but the Democrats’ pandering certainly meets the needs of their political party. The bill boasts $1,400 checks but behind the front pages about helping individuals are hidden hundreds of billions of dollars for rental assistance, including large business bailout. Despite their constant side-eyeing of “big business”, the Dems don’t seem to hesitate to bail out airlines or music venues – both of which are examples of the types of rental bailouts hidden away in their bill.
Finally, their bill includes special exemptions for expanding Medicaid to low earners and aid for farmers of color. Again, examples of Democratic pandering to specific demographics, such as minorities and the less fortunate. Whether it is by promising the most diverse cabinet in United States history or handing out the most free money in United States history, one thing remains clear: Joe Biden seems intent to do whatever it takes to earn the Democrats and himself approval from voters, partisan politics or not.