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Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion COVID-Response Bill

President Biden signs the American Rescue Plan in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 11, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law, one day earlier than previously expected.

Biden had initially planned to sign the “American Rescue Plan” on Friday, but changed course after “Congress enrolled the bill more quickly than we anticipated,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a tweet.

The sweeping relief bill, Biden’s first big policy win, becomes law as the United States marks one year since COVID-19 first shut down much of the country. The bill signing comes hours before Biden is scheduled to take the stage for his first prime-time address since taking office. He is expected to reflect on the toll that COVID has taken on the country and mourn the nearly 530,000 Americans who have died as a result of the virus.

The measure was passed largely along party lines, with zero support from Republicans.

After the legislation passed a final House vote 220-211 on Wednesday, the president celebrated the measure, saying an “overwhelming percentage of Americans Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan.”

“Today, with the final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard,” he said in a statement. “Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85 percent 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.”

The Senate passed the bill on Saturday in a 50-49 vote after making a number of changes to the legislation that had passed the House in February. Changes included more targeted eligibility requirements for stimulus checks, a reduction in the federal boost to unemployment benefits, and the elimination of a provision that would have raised the federal minimum wage to $15.

The bill that ultimately passed the Senate contains $1,400 checks for Americans making less than $75,000 a year, while married couples making $150,000 or less will receive two checks. Payments are phased out for individuals making $80,000 and married couples making $160,000.

Federal unemployment benefits will continue at $300 per week until September 6 under the legislation, while the earlier bill would have provided a $400 weekly bonus through August 29.

The bill also includes $130 billion in funds for K-12 schools, intended to help districts reduce class sizes to accommodate social distancing, improve ventilation systems, and make other changes. One measure introduced by Senator Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) requires schools that receive funding to provide reopening plans within 30 days. However, the relief bill does not mandate that schools reopen for in-person learning.

The legislation also allocates $350 billion for state and local governments, in measures Republicans have criticized as “blue-state bailouts.

However, not included in the bill is the minimum wage hike after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the provision could not be included under the reconciliation process that Democrats used to pass the bill with only a simple majority, instead of the 60-vote threshold that is required for most legislation.

While Democrats have argued that a sweeping bill is needed to provide Americans with additional aide one year into the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans have rebuked the bill as wasteful spending.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) criticized the bill shortly after it passed in the Senate on Saturday.

“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process,” McConnell said.

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