U.S. President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a coronavirus response plan Thursday evening, emphasizing the urgency of passing legislation to help Americans through the pandemic and the economic crisis it has wrought.
"During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a paycheck,” Biden said in an address introducing the American Rescue Plan.
Biden’s plan includes a new round of direct payments of $1,400 for most Americans, funding to promote the safe opening of schools and mounting a national vaccine program. Also included is $400 a week in additional unemployment insurance, through September.
Providing relief to small businesses, notably those owned by entrepreneurs of color, was also detailed in the plan.
The plan, which the transition team described as “ambitious, but achievable,” is estimated to total $1.9 trillion, according to a statement released ahead of Biden’s speech.
That is a figure Republicans called too large not that long ago.
"Remember that a bipartisan $900 billion #COVID19 relief bill became law just 18 days ago,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn tweeted.
This time, Biden, a Democrat, will have a Democratically controlled House, by a slim margin, and Senate split 50-50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris available to break ties.
One Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, on January 8 tweeted: “If the next round of stimulus checks goes out they should be targeted to those who need it.”
Biden had already set a goal of administering 100 million vaccine shots in the first 100 days after he takes office on January 20. Thursday’s plan included details of a $20 billion national plan that will include funding for community centers and mobile vaccination centers for remote areas, in coordination with state and local governments.
"This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts we have ever undertaken as a nation,” Biden said Thursday.
"We’ll have to move heaven and Earth to get more people vaccinated," he added.
The U.S. government has approved two different vaccines for emergency use. Both require a two-shot regimen. So far, more than 10 million people have received the first dose.
The New York Times reported early Friday that Biden has chosen Dr. David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed, the government program focused on producing and delivering millions of vaccine doses. Kessler, a pediatrician and a lawyer, is a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner.
Thursday’s plan also emphasizes the need of increased testing to stop the spread of the disease as populations are being vaccinated, employing more people in the public health field to help with efforts to contain the virus. In addition to funding to ensure the safe opening of schools, it details increases to food stamp programs and restrictions against evictions and foreclosures.
Biden intends to follow his rescue plan with a recovery package that will extend moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures until September and offer money to help people pay their rent and utilities.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement Thursday that they looked forward to working with Biden on his plan.
“House and Senate Democrats express gratitude toward and look forward to working with the President-elect on the rescue plan,” the statement read.
The impeachment of President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatens to crowd the Senate calendar, but Biden said he hoped the Senate could balance impeachment with other priorities.
The United States has recorded more than 388,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and for more than two months, the nation has been dealing with its worst surge in infections.
During the past week, the country has added an average of 245,000 new cases per day with 3,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at record highs.