Biden reveals $1.9 trillion stimulus package to address Covid crisis

President-elect commits to $1,400 stimulus cheques for Americans and $400 billion towards managing the virus

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on the public health and economic crises at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware on January 14, 2021.  President-elect Joe Biden will propose injecting $1.9 trillion into the US economy when he takes office next week, as evidence mounts that the recovery from the sharp downturn caused by Covid-19 is flagging. / AFP / JIM WATSON
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President-elect Joe Biden announced details of his relief plan to help the US tackle the pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn on Thursday night, committing to $1,400 stimulus cheques for Americans and $400 billion towards managing the virus.

The US is dealing with the world's largest coronavirus outbreak, with hundreds of thousands of infections reported each day. The country continues to manage record numbers of people in hospital, with about 4,000 Americans dying from Covid-19 every day.

More than 384,000 people in the US have died because of Covid-19.

Mr Biden hopes his sprawling economic package will financially back ambitious plans for the first 100 days of his presidency: launching a national mass vaccination campaign, boosting Covid-19 testing programmes and safely reopening most K-8 school systems.

The plan earmarks $400 billion dollars to back these goals that directly address the fallout from the virus as part of a new federal response that differs greatly from that of the Trump administration.

"There is real pain," Mr Biden said in a speech from a closed theatre in Wilmington, Delaware. "There's no time to waste. We have to act and we have to act now. We cannot afford inaction."

The pandemic has caused a deep economic downturn, affecting many jobs and businesses nationwide.

"During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and paycheck," Mr Biden said. "Millions of Americans never thought they'd be out of work, facing eviction, waiting for hours in cars to feed their families as they drive to a food bank. Millions have kept their jobs and have seen their hours and paychecks reduced, barely hanging on as well."

Another 965,000 Americans filed unemployment claims for the first time this week.

His proposal includes increasing the federal weekly unemployment benefit to $400. It will be extended through the autumn of 2021, as will the nationwide eviction and foreclosure moratoria.

The president-elect also promised to send Americans $2,000 cheques. His economic proposal includes $1,400 cheques to add to the $600 payouts approved by Congress in late December last year, with the total amount distributed adding up to $2,000.

This is substantially higher than the emergency $1,200 cheques Congress sent at the beginning of the outbreak in the spring of 2020.

Mr Biden said he will announce his Build Back Better recovery plan in his first speech to a joint session of Congress next month.

It is unclear how easily or how quickly Mr Biden's economic proposal will pass in Congress, because the Senate is likely to begin an impeachment trial against President Donald Trump shortly after Mr Biden's inauguration.

"We will get right to work to turn president-elect Biden's vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law," said Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Thursday.

Mr Biden is also looking to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars to support communities. The plan includes funds to help “small businesses, especially small businesses owned by entrepreneurs of colour, and protecting the jobs of first responders, transit workers and other essential workers we depend on”. Cities and states will also gain financial support for their budget shortfalls.

The bill not only addresses the pandemic in the country, but also takes on economic issues that have been pushed to the side. This includes increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a long-time goal of many progressive activists and Democrats.

"We can do these bold, practical things now. Now," he said, addressing concerns about the ambitious plan. "What I just described does not come cheaply. But failure to do so will cost us dearly."

Mr Biden also announced he will present a second economic bill to tackle other goals, as a form of recovery following this first rescue plan. It will include financially addressing climate change, racial equity, infrastructure and job creation in the long term, although this plan may come later in the year.

"To the millions of you just looking for a fighting chance in this economy, I promise you: we will not forget you," he promised. "We understand what you're going through. We will never, ever give up."