Congress passes $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan; Biden set to sign first legislative victory (updated)

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President Joe Biden promised help was on the way to an America still battered by COVID-19, and after a marathon session of debate known as vote-a-rama and some dissension in the Democratic ranks—particularly Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia—the U.S. Senate finally passed the president’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Saturday, March 6.

On Wednesday, March 10, the bill cleared its final passage through the U.S. House. Now it awaits President Biden’s signature. He is expected to sign it by Friday.

“For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans—Democrats, Independents, and Republicans —have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan,” said President Biden upon the bill’s passage. “Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard.

“Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85% of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half.
“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation—the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going—a fighting chance,” continued Biden.

The bill was the first significant test of the Biden Presidency. It served as a litmus test of how united Democrats would be after four years of having debilitating Donald Trump-led legislation rammed through a favorable Senate.

During the four years of Republican control, a host of Democrat-proposed bills stalled in the upper chamber in what became known as former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s graveyard.

Sen. Manchin, who has discovered new and swing-vote power, has wielded it mightily, forcing changes to the bill that was passed by the House a week earlier.

The West Virginia moderate objected to the president’s and other Democrats who fought to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That portion of the bill was removed to facilitate the legislation getting through the reconciliation process. Sen. Manchin held up the vote for hours wanting – and receiving – a change from $400 to $300 to the federal unemployment insurance addition to the bill.

Ultimately, the bill passed along Senate party lines 50-49—one Republican Senator was absent, and therefore, Democrats didn’t need Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

What’s in the bill

Once the bill becomes law, it’s believed that the IRS would quickly begin sending out a new round of stimulus payments. Single tax filers making $75,000 or less would receive $1,400, while married couples who file jointly and make less than $150,000 would receive $2,800.

Families will also receive $1,400 per child, and adult children claimed as dependents would also receive $1,400. Unlike previous stimulus payments, single tax filers making at least $80,000, or couples earning more than $160,000, will not receive a check.

It’s also important to know that the IRS will determine eligibility based on either a 2019 or 2020 tax return. If you have not filed your 2020 taxes, the government will use 2019 income.

Individuals who may have lost their jobs or whose incomes decreased in 2020 should file as soon as possible. Otherwise, the IRS will use your 2019 income.

Like the previous stimulus, you are not required to pay taxes on the payments, and those owing child support or student debt to the federal government will be protected from garnishment.

However, lawmakers did not make provisions to protect anyone from garnishment who might have private debt.

The bill allows for the first $10,200 of unemployment payments tax-free, and those who receive food stamps will see a 15 percent increase in those benefits through September. Families whose children’s schools have remained closed are also in line to receive EBT benefits through the summer.

The legislation sends about $20 billion to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent and utility bills.

The bill contains a provision that allows families with minor children to claim a larger tax credit this year. Those who qualify would receive a child tax credit of $3,600 for each child under six.

Families will also receive $3,000 for each under age 18, up from the current credit of up to $2,000 per child under age 17.

The American Rescue Plan also contains aid for Black farmers, and provides $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan Program, which provides long-term, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

Severely impacted small businesses with fewer than 10 workers will be given priority for some of the money.

Additionally, more people will qualify for higher premium subsidies through the Affordable Care Act.

“Today’s passage of bold relief legislation is exactly what Georgians had in mind when they sent me to the Senate to help our state recover from the devastation of this once-in-a-century pandemic and corresponding economic downturn,” stated Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

“For months, families and communities across the nation have been waiting for the substantive federal assistance they need to pay their rent, buy food and medicine, safely reopen all of our schools and keep essential workers on the job—and because of Georgia, that help is finally just around the corner.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey lauded the passage of the plan, which his office noted includes direct reimbursement for cities, including Minneapolis. An estimated $280 million will be provided in direct support for Minneapolis that can be allocated to both external and internal recovery spending priorities.

“This essential support allows us to plan for the future post-pandemic and move beyond crisis budgeting and response. Our entire city is grateful to President Biden, Senators Klobuchar and Smith, and Representative Omar for prioritizing the needs of the people they represent and investing in real solutions,” Mayor Frey said in a statement.

This story was provided, in part, by NNPA Newswire, with reporting from Stacy M. Brown, NNPA newswire senior national correspondent.