Less than two months after Joe Biden took office, Congress passed a Covid-related stimulus package in what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called, “the most consequential legislation that many of us will ever be a party to.” In a day when we have come to expect hyperbole from politicians, this is probably not an exaggeration. The final cost of the bill is estimated at $1.856 trillion and while no Congressional Republicans in either chamber voted for the bill, polls show it has more than 70% bipartisan support among American voters.
According to Emily Cochrane writing in the New York Times, the measure provides $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments crippled by the pandemic; allows for up to $10 billion for critical state infrastructure projects; $14 billion for distribution of vaccines; and $130 billion to primary and secondary schools. It also includes $30 billion for transit agencies; $45 billion in rental, utility and mortgage assistance; and billions more for small businesses and live performance venues. On top of this, it provides another round of direct payments to taxpayers in the form of $1,400 checks to most individuals.
The legislation also contains a substantial, though temporary, expansion of health care subsidies that could slash monthly insurance payments for those purchasing coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And for six months, from April 1 until Sept. 30, the measure will fully cover so-called COBRA health insurance costs for people who have lost a job or had their hours cut and buy coverage from their former employer.
For me, the most important and far-reaching aspect of this legislation is that it represents concrete action by the federal government to address the pernicious and growing wealth gap in this country. Decades in the making, this imbalance is destructive to the economic wellbeing of us all, but it has created increasingly desperate conditions for poor and marginalized communities among us, disproportionally represented by people of color.
According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at the Columbia School of Social Work, with expansions of tax credits, food aid and rental and mortgage assistance, the bill is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty by half. These are extraordinary numbers that reflect a reality for millions of us who struggle each day to make a living and who have all but given up on help from the government.
It seems like a long time since there has been really good news emanating from the White House. President Biden ran for President on two seemingly mutually exclusive promises: that he could forge bipartisan legislation to help heal this divided nation while positively addressing the needs of Americans drowning in a pandemic tidal wave that has killed more than half a million of us.
Now, only halfway through the much heralded “first one hundred days,” President Biden has demonstrated that his administration can walk and chew gum at the same time. While striving for bipartisanship in Congress, the White House still engineered a process that employed the full range of tools in the federal government toolkit to come to the aid of so many of us, especially those most in need.