Biden unveiling $1.9T plan to stem virus and steady economy

The 'American Rescue Plan' the legislative proposal seeks to mass distribution of vaccines and deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy

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President-elect Joe Biden is unveiling a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up the vaccine rollout and providing financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it would deliver another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic, said aides who described the plan ahead of a speech by Biden on Thursday evening.

Read More: Manchin against Biden’s $2K stimulus check plan: ‘Absolutely not’

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks to the media while flanked by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, at the Queen Theater after receiving a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board on November 09, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Biden spoke about how his administration would respond to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. The plan would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September. And it shoehorns in the long-term Democratic policy aim of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and expanding paid leave for workers across the economy.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said Biden’s proposal will be his first order of business this year. The emergency legislation would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic.

Aides said Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole. Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the plan ahead of his speech Thursday night.

Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably linked with controlling the coronavirus. “Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” he declared in his victory speech. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments until we get it under control.”

Read More: US COVID-19 deaths hit another one-day high at over 4,300

President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks prior to the holiday at The Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

The plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 385,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. And government numbers out Thursday reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.

Under Biden’s multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.

About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.

The plan provides $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration’s first 100 days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.

Read More: McConnell blocks $2K stimulus, says it would go to those who don’t need it

The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus.

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There’s also a proposal to boost investment in genetic sequencing, to help track new virus strains including the more contagious variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Throughout the plan, there’s a focus on ensuring that minority communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic are not shortchanged on vaccines and treatments, aides said.

With the new proposals comes a call to redouble efforts on the basics.

Biden is asking Americans to override their sense of pandemic fatigue and recommit to wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings, particularly larger ones. It’s still the surest way to slow the COVID-19 wave, with more than 4,400 deaths reported just on Tuesday.

Biden’s biggest challenge will be to “win the hearts and minds of the American people to follow his lead,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health expert and emergency physician.

With the backing of Congress and the expertise of private and government scientists, the Trump administration has delivered two highly effective vaccines and more are on the way. Yet a month after the first shots were given, the nation’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start with about 10.3 million people getting the first of two shots, although more than 29 million doses have been delivered.

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