One week before being inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden released a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 legislative relief package that includes the most aggressive policy agenda to lift Americans out of poverty in decades.
Known as the “American Rescue Plan,” Biden says the plan will help protect people and households struggling to survive. He plans to ask the Democrat-controlled Senate to approve the package within the first 100 days of his administration.
Biden’s plan calls for:
- An extension of the federal eviction moratorium through September 2021
- $30 billion in emergency rental and utility assistance
- $1,400 stimulus checks
- $5 billion to address the health and housing needs of people experiencing homelessness
It comes at a time as the pandemic worsens across the country. Two variant strains of COVID-19 have been discovered in the US, and the disease has claimed the lives of over 370,000 people to date.
“Just as we are in the midst of a dark winter of this pandemic as cases, hospitalizations and deaths spike at record levels, there is real pain overwhelming the real economy,” Biden said during the announcement. “The one where people rely on their paycheck—not their investments—to pay their bills, their meals and their children’s needs.”
As a result of the pandemic, over 10 million Americans remain unemployed. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates over 14 million Americans are at risk of experiencing homelessness because of the pandemic.
To help prevent future homelessness, Biden’s plan will extend a $400-per-week unemployment benefit insurance payment to workers who currently do not qualify, including rideshare and other gig workers, through September 2021. It will also provide $25 billion in rental and mortgage assistance for families who are behind on payments.
A comprehensive approach to stabilizing housing isn’t complete without addressing the hunger crisis as well. The Census Bureau recently reported about 18% of Latinx households and 20% of Black households are struggling to buy the food they need.
To address these issues, Biden’s plan will:
- Increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps
- Invest $3 billion in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Provide a one-time emergency infusion of administrative support for state anti-hunger and nutrition programs
The plan also includes measures to help schools and childcare programs reopen safely. Funding priorities include $25 billion in child care stabilization payments, expanded childcare credits, and $50 billion for vaccinations in schools.
“Failing to take additional action will lead to a wave of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months, overwhelming emergency shelter capacity and increasing the likelihood of COVID-19 infections. And Americans of color, who have on average a fraction of the wealth available to white families, face higher risks of eviction and housing loss without critical assistance,” the plan says.
Housing the Unhoused
Over 570,000 people sleep rough on America’s streets every night, according to data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The CDC determined these living conditions put people experiencing homelessness at increased risk of contracting the virus or contributing to its spread.
Biden’s plan highlights the need to provide housing for the nation’s unhoused. It will provide $5 billion in emergency assistance to help secure housing for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Funding is meant to provide flexibility for both congregate and non-congregate housing options, help jurisdictions purchase and convert hotels and motels into permanent housing, and give homeless services providers the resources they need to hire and retain staff, maintain outreach programs, and provide essential services. The plan estimates the funding will help approximately 200,000 individuals and families obtain stable housing.
Because of the scant language addressing homelessness in the COVID-19 plan, organizations like NLIHC are asking the Biden administration to add additional housing and homelessness resources.
The requests include:
- $28 billion for 500,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers
- $3 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants
- $44 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund to help communities provide homeless individuals currently living in hotels and motels with an exit solution through permanent supportive housing
“These resources and protections are urgently needed and should be enacted as quickly as possible, along with additional needed resources to ensure housing stability for low-income renters and people experiencing homelessness,” NLIHC said in a statement.
Lift Every Voice
While Biden’s plan specifically addresses America’s growing housing crisis, it also includes provisions designed to raise the tide for all.
One such provision is raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Biden said this is designed to help frontline workers, 40% of whom are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color.
Other measures include:
- A $1,400-per-week maximum paid leave program for workers without benefits
- Extending a tax credit to employers who have employees who take leave
- Reimbursing local governments for the cost of these programs
This will give employees and employers the flexibility to get through the pandemic.
Biden stressed the importance of moving quickly to enact this plan in his speech. “There is no time to wait,” he said. “We have to act and act now.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled they will push the package forward.
“These proposals by the Biden-Harris administration will be critical to getting our country through this challenging period and towards a period of recovery,” they said in a joint statement released Thursday before Biden’s remarks.