The House passed a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan this week.
That is great news to the millions of families struggling to make ends meet during a yearlong pandemic that has killed more than 520,000 Americans, shuttered businesses and caused massive unemployment.
This third COVID-19 relief plan has wide bipartisan support among regular Americans: a Pew Research Center poll of more than 12,000 U.S. adults conducted March 1-7 found 70 percent approve of the legislation and 57 percent said President Joe Biden and Democrats made “a good faith effort working with Republican congressional leaders on the coronavirus aid package.”
Dig a little deeper into the Pew poll and the legislation’s main detractors become clear.
As the Pew Research Center noted: “Among Republicans, there are wide differences in support for the economic package by household income,” with 63 percent of lower-income Republicans supporting the legislation while 75 percent of upper-income Republicans oppose the rescue plan.
Meanwhile, among the nearly 95 percent of Democrats who supported the plan, Pew noted “there are no substantial differences by income.”
Unfortunately, even though a majority of Americans support the plan — and it is mostly wealthier, right-wing folks opposing it — no Republican senator or representative, including our Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, has come out in support of the bill.
They say it’s because only 9 percent of the funds go directly toward COVID-19 relief and that the package is too expensive.
As Sen. Angus King, an Independent senator from Maine, recently told NPR, the Republicans’ arguments against the American Rescue Plan are “nonsense.”
“The major pieces of the bill — payments to individuals, extended unemployment, money for states and localities, money for schools — all of those things were in the COVID package that passed last year that all the Republicans voted for. So they were OK then, but they’re not OK now, and I frankly can’t really figure out that argument,” King told NPR this week.
Despite the rescue plan’s widespread support from voters, including a majority of Republican voters, when the vote came to Congress on Wednesday, March 10, not even one Republican representative voted to approve the rescue plan. Some far-right Republicans even tried to adjourn the House for no apparent reason Wednesday morning, to prevent representatives from taking a vote on the COVID relief plan.
Once the Democrats had passed the plan, however, a few Republicans began to take credit for the aid the relief package will provide to small business owners and hard-hit restaurateurs.
For example: Mississippi’s Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who voted against the plan when it came to the Senate, hailed the plan’s aid to small businesses, noting on his social media accounts, that “independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief” and that the American Rescue Plan’s “funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”
These Republican politicians would have you believe that the rescue plan is complete pork, with very little money to help regular, everyday Americans. In reality, the plan will help struggling small businesses and their employees; give a desperately needed 20 percent raise to the poorest 20 percent of Americans — many of whom have been working as “essential workers” during this pandemic but still struggling to put food on their tables or keep their lights on; get COVID-19 vaccinations distributed across the country; provide schools the money they need to safely reopen; and help state and local governments continue to pay for services we all rely on every single day.
So what’s in the $1.9 trillion relief bill?
- More direct cash infusions to Americans: with individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $1,400 per person and another $1,400 for every dependent they claim on their tax returns.
- Unemployment assistance: The plan will likely include $300 weekly supplemental payments to people receiving unemployment benefits through Sept. 6.
- Another round of money for small businesses: The plan will add another $7.25 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses and, this time around, nonprofits impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its public health restrictions.
- Money for states to spend on schools and education: The plan includes $147 billion for local school districts, child-care facilities and state colleges and universities to help negate the costs associated with pandemic-related closures and, more recently, with the costs of reopening safely.
- Ramped-up vaccination programs: The plan will give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention $7.5 billion to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and track the country’s vaccination progress, as well as $48 billion for testing and tracing the virus.
- More money for businesses most impacted by COVID-19 closures: The plan also includes nearly $70 billion for specific industries hurt during the pandemic, including restaurants and bars, airports, aerospace manufacturers and transportation industries, as well as $16.5 billion to help Amtrak and airline workers who lost their jobs and wages during the pandemic.
- Money to help low-income and impoverished families — many of whom are considered “essential workers” — but have been challenged to afford the most basic of needs during the pandemic: The bill gives $4.5 billion to the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which assists low-income families who cannot afford their heating and/or cooling bills; increases nutrition program benefits for families in the federal WIC program; gives $1.4 billion to nutrition programs that help older Americans; and gives $37 to a federal supplemental food program for low-income seniors. The relief act also includes $25 billion to help families struggling to afford rent and those experiencing homelessness.
Republican politicians who have rallied against this relief plan often cite some sort of unfair scheme to send money to “blue states,” but as a recent USA Today article pointed out, “Republican governors have slammed the bill’s funding formula based on unemployment as ‘biased,’ but a breakdown shows only small difference.”
The money going to states and local governments is a necessary step toward our nation’s healing and recovery after the pandemic. According to the Brookings Institute, state and local government revenues are likely to decline by more than $450 billion between 2020 and 2022 as a result of the pandemic. These revenues help pay for critical infrastructure in cities like Camas and Washougal: for the roads we drive, the sewer systems we rely on every time we flush, the parks we relax in, the police officers we hope will protect us and the firefighters and emergency medical workers we call on to save us in times of crisis.
When we hear Republican politicians deriding the American Rescue Plan, which will help infuse our cities, states and families with desperately needed funds after a yearlong public health crisis none of us have seen in our lifetimes, it is challenging to not ask them one simple question: Why were they A-OK with the $1.9 trillion tax plan Trump pushed through during his four-year tenure?
As the Institute for Policy Studies put it: that $1.9 trillion “plan” “helped the billionaire class, not the working class.”
Trump’s tax plan cost just as much as the American Rescue Plan. But instead of helping lower- and middle-income families, the tax cuts gave 644 individual billionaires a combined $3.88 trillion while taking money away from regular Americans and actually harming U.S. manufacturing workers.
So where was the alarm in 2017? Where were the Republicans who are alarmed over the cost of bringing the nation back from a mind-numbingly long pandemic that is — despite climbing vaccination rates — still months from being over?
When you hear them complaining now, remember their silence in 2017. And think about where you want taxpayer money to end up: into the offshore bank accounts of fewer than 700 billionaires or into the hands and savings accounts of millions of struggling Americans?
Editor’s Note: This editorial was updated on March 11, 2021, to reflect the results of the House of Representatives’ vote on March 10, 2021, to approve the American Rescue Plan.