Originally published in the Sacramento Bee
By Dianne Feinstein
March 11 was a day of two distinct personalities: As the nation marked the somber one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic, President Joe Biden was signing into law the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package of federal assistance to help the country recover from this public health crisis.
While the anniversary received the lion’s share of media attention, it’s the recovery bill that offers millions of Americans a path forward. The bill is much more than just individual stimulus checks, which the media trumpeted — it’s made up of a number of ambitious and transformative provisions that deserve greater attention.
Beyond just responding to the immediate crisis of the pandemic itself, the American Rescue Plan strikes at the stark inequities in our country that have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Communities of color and low-income families have borne the brunt of coronavirus, and this bill is a lifeline that will have lasting impact beyond the immediate future of this crisis.
For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the child tax credit will reduce childhood poverty by nearly half its current level by the end of the year. That’s 4.1 million children lifted out of poverty.
The bill also helps low-wage workers without children. It nearly triples the maximum amount a worker will receive under the Earned Income Tax Credit to $1,500 while raising the income cap to $21,000. The bill will also allow both younger (19 to 24-year-olds) and older (65 and over) workers to qualify for the first time.
This provision will provide critical assistance to 17 million working people struggling to make ends meet.
But after almost a year of 1 million new people signing up for unemployment every single week, more than ten million Americans remain jobless. That’s why the American Rescue Plan extends enhanced unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans through Sept. 6 and continues the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which expands eligibility to the self-employed, including gig economy workers.
And the bill’s massive expansion of Obamacare subsidies will make insurance more affordable for those purchasing private insurance from the marketplace, cutting health insurance premiums in half for many Americans.
The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates 1.3 million Americans will gain coverage because of this provision, the greatest expansion in access to affordable health care since the ACA was first passed a decade ago.
The bill also increases financial incentives for states that never expanded Medicaid after the Affordable Care Act’s passage. If these 14 states were to implement the Medicaid expansion, nearly 4 million Americans would gain coverage.
At a time of unprecedented hunger in America, this bill provides $12 billion in food assistance for hungry families. It extends last year’s 15% increase in food stamp benefits through September and extends the Pandemic EBT program, which replaces meals children would have otherwise received at school.
Taken together, these provisions are estimated by the Urban Institute to lift 16 million people out of poverty, many of whom are children.
The plan will also help the nearly 1 in 5 renters at risk of becoming homeless because they’re behind on rent. It provides $21.6 billion in emergency rental assistance for low-income renters and provides additional funding for Section-8 vouchers to help keep a roof over people’s heads.
The effects of this bill are nationwide, but California will receive a large share of the funding. All told, more than $40 billion in aid will make its way to our state, including more than $15 billion to help K-12 schools safely reopen and address learning loss, and billions to maintain our transportation infrastructure.
This is the largest economic stimulus bill ever passed by Congress, an unprecedented response to an unprecedented challenge.
It’s difficult to list all the vital provisions in this bill that Democrats passed through Congress. It helps fund the massive vaccine distribution program that President Biden has jump-started; it helps keep public transit agencies from going bankrupt until ridership recovers and it targets relief to communities of color and low-income households that have suffered the worst of the pandemic.
With the American Rescue Plan, President Biden has delivered on his promise to the American people of a robust response to help the millions of Americans struggling to make it through the now year-long pandemic.
President Biden was right when he said, “Help is on the way.” As we hopefully near the end of this crisis, this bill will help millions recover so that we can rebuild as strong as ever.