President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday proposed a $1.9 trillion emergency relief package aimed at combating America's coronavirus epidemic and the related economic crisis by scaling up Covid-19 vaccinations, testing, and contact tracing; providing another round of stimulus funds; and more.
Proposal calls for $415B in funding to fight coronavirus epidemic
The proposal calls on Congress to approve $415 billion in emergency funding intended to directly address America's coronavirus epidemic. Specifically, the proposal calls on Congress to allocate:
- $50 billion to expand the nation's coronavirus testing efforts, including funding for purchasing rapid tests, increasing lab capacity, and implementing regular testing for schools and local governments;
- $30 billion for the federal Disaster Relief Fund to help ensure the United States has sufficient supplies and protective gear and to provide state and local governments and Tribes with 100% federal reimbursement for critical emergency response resources, including National Guard deployment;
- $20 billion for a national vaccination program, and to increase the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage to 100% for vaccine administration; and
- $10 billion to increase domestic manufacturing of pandemic supplies.
Biden said the $415 billion in funding is needed to speed up Covid-19 vaccination efforts in the United States.
"The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far. …. We'll have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated, to create more places for them to get vaccinated, to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people's arms, to increase vaccine supply to get it out the door as fast as possible," Biden said, "[b]ut we need about $400 billion in funding from Congress to make all of what I just said happen."
During a call with reporters on Thursday, senior advisers to Biden said state and local governments would be able to almost immediately scale up their testing and vaccination programs if they receive the funding outlined in Biden's proposal, STAT News reports. According to Inside Health Policy, the proposal would help state and local governments to launch community vaccination centers, deploy mobile vaccination units and teams, and ensure all U.S. residents, regardless of their immigration status, receive the vaccine at no cost to them.
Biden's proposal also calls for an unspecified amount of funding to help support 100,000 public health workers to address staffing shortages at hospitals, clinics, and local health departments, STAT News reports. In addition, the proposal calls for unspecified amounts of funding to help states deploy so-called "strike teams" to contain coronavirus outbreaks at long-term care facilities, invest in new Covid-19 treatments, ramp up efforts to identify and track new variants and the novel coronavirus, and study the long-term effects of Covid-19.
Proposal calls for funding to provide Americans, small businesses with economic relief
Biden's proposal also calls for funding intended to provide Americans and small businesses with economic relief. For instance, the proposal aims to increase health care coverage for Americans by subsidizing COBRA through the end of September and increasing the Affordable Care Act's premium tax credit to ensure enrollees in exchange plans pay no more than 8.5% of their annual incomes for coverage
The proposal also calls on Congress to approve:
- $1 trillion in funding to provide direct relief to families and individuals, including $1,400 direct payments to individuals, as well as housing and nutrition assistance, child-care subsidies, and other financial aid;
- $350 billion to help state, local, and tribal governments bridge budget shortfalls and pay frontline workers, reopen schools, and more;
- $50 billion in funding for grants, lending support, and investment for small businesses;
- 14 weeks of paid leave for caregivers coping with school closures and caring for people with Covid-19 symptoms;
- Extending expanded unemployment benefits and providing an extra $400 weekly supplement through the end of September;
- Federally mandated paid leave for workers; and
- Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Will Congress approve Biden's proposal?
Biden said he hopes Congress will approve his proposal with bipartisan support. However, it's unclear whether Biden will be able to secure enough votes in Congress to approve his proposal, the New York Times reports.
Democrats will soon take control of the Senate, but they will have a 50-50 split with Republicans in the chamber. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will serve as president of the Senate, will hold the tiebreaking vote.
For Biden's proposal to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, Biden would need to reach a 60-vote threshold for the proposal, meaning 10 Republicans would have to join all Democrats in voting to approve the proposal, as the Times reports. However, Democrats in the House and Senate have said they would be prepared to use the budget reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority vote, to bypass a filibuster if needed, according to the Times.
But it's also unclear when Congress might move to consider Biden's proposal. According to the Times, the Senate's consideration of the proposal could be delayed by the start of the chamber's impeachment trial for President Trump.
America grapples with persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths
Biden's emergency relief proposal comes as America continues to report persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
According to data compiled by the Times, U.S. officials on Thursday reported 238,390 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Friday morning, officials had reported a total of about 23.3 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began—up from about 23.1 million cases reported as of Thursday morning.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 240,199—which is up by 27% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.
As of Friday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and every state except Hawaii and North Dakota. According to the Times, those territories and states have had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week.
Meanwhile, the Times' data showed that, as of Friday morning, the daily average number of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in North Dakota, which has had comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission. Hawaii has had comparatively low case rates, but it was seeing those rates "going up" as of Friday morning, according to the Times. And in Guam, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Friday morning, the Times' data showed.
U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, also have remained high, straining hospitals. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 128,947 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Thursday, including 23,891 who were receiving care in an ICU and 7,878 who were on a ventilator.
Recent data shows that America also has reached its deadliest point in the country's coronavirus epidemic so far, with the country reporting more than or close to 4,000 new deaths tied to the novel coronavirus in a single day multiple times over the past week. For example, the Times' data shows that, on Thursday, U.S. officials reported 3,973 new deaths tied to the virus.
As of Friday morning, U.S. officials had reported a total of about 388,785 U.S. deaths linked to the novel coronavirus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 384,804 deaths reported as of Thursday morning.
(Tankersley/Crowley, New York Times, 1/14; Lienhard, Inside Health Policy, 1/14 [subscription required]; Facher/Cohrs, STAT News, 1/14; Nichols, Axios, 1/14; Rubin/Collins, Wall Street Journal, 1/14; Werner/Stein, Washington Post, 1/14; Office of President-Elect Joe Biden/KRWG, 1/15; New York Times, 1/15; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 1/15).