Elections & Government
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made a number of promises about what they will achieve in their first days and months in office. What do they plan to do — and what does the data say about the issues?
On January 14, President Biden unveiled the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion proposal for immediate pandemic relief. President Biden has stated that he will release his economic recovery strategy in the coming weeks.
The package includes an additional $1,400 direct cash payment for Americans, on top of the $600 included in the December stimulus bill. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that an additional stimulus payment of this size would cost the federal government about $464 billion.
Moreover, the package would renew emergency paid sick leave requirements that expired at the end of last year, expand qualifying reasons for leave, and reimburse small businesses for the cost of the leave. Prior to the pandemic health leave bill passed last March, 78% of all civilian employees and 45% of part-time workers had access to paid sick leave.
The package also continues unemployment expansions through September, allowing self-employed workers and the long-term unemployed to remain eligible for benefits, while also increasing the federal unemployment supplement to $400 a week. That is up from the $300 weekly unemployment supplement approved in the most recent stimulus bill but down from the $600 weekly supplement approved by the CARES Act from April to July of last year. In December, the US reported a net decline of 140,000 jobs — the first drop in employment since April — and a total of 10.7 million unemployed Americans.
The stimulus package would extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, currently set to expire at the end of January. It would also provide $30 billion in assistance for rent and utilities and another $5 billion to secure housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. At the end of December, almost 10% of adults had either missed their last rent or mortgage payment or lacked confidence that they would be able to make the next one. Housing insecurity was highest in Louisiana and Mississippi, with 18% and 13% of adults, respectively, reporting difficulty making payments.
To address food insecurity, the package would extend a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September; invest in special nutrition programming for women, infants, and children; contract restaurants to feed food-insecure families; and grant nutrition assistance funding in US territories. Almost 14% of adults at the end of December reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat — the highest rate of food insecurity since May.
The package would include other provisions to support working parents, providing $25 billion in aid to childcare providers in danger of closing; expanding childcare assistance for families; and increasing refundable childcare tax credits. It features other tax reform as well, including raising and expanding the earned income tax credit to support low-income essential workers.
The proposed stimulus package would increase funding available for grants, lending, and investment for small businesses, in addition to the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program passed in the December stimulus bill. It would also allocate $350 billion for states and territories to keep public front-line workers employed, support overall economic development, and combat COVID-19, as well as $20 billion to maintain operations in the hardest-hit public transit agencies. In July 2020, public transit use was down 65% compared to the year before.
President Biden is also proposing raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. In 2019, 1.6 million workers were paid at or below the federal minimum wage. Food preparation and serving-related occupations had the highest percentage of hourly workers earning the federal minimum wage or less, at 12% of their workers.
In his stimulus package proposal, President Biden reiterated his commitment to 100 million vaccinations by the end of his first 100 days. As of January 19, over five weeks into the vaccine rollout, 15.7 million doses had been administered to 13.6 million people.
The stimulus package would allocate $20 billion to fund the national vaccination program and ensure that the vaccine is free of charge for everyone living in the US, as well as $50 billion to expand testing, $30 billion to purchase critical equipment, $10 billion to invest in expanded pandemic related domestic manufacturing, and $20 billion to help Native American reservations combat COVID-19.
The package would extend continuation health coverage, for those who lost their employee health insurance, through the end of September. In 2019, employment-based insurance covered 56% of the population.
It would also increase support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, authorize additional worker protections against unsafe pandemic working conditions, and raise funding for veterans’ health programs and for behavioral and mental health services. In October, 37% of Americans reported experiencing at least one major symptom of depression.
President Biden announced further details of his COVID-19 vaccine plan on January 15, including encouraging all states to expand vaccine eligibility to anyone 65 and older; deploying mobile clinics to rural communities; setting up community vaccination centers, with a goal of 100 centers by the end of the first month; releasing most vaccines as soon as available, rather than retaining a reserve; and requiring masks on interstate travel, like trains and planes, as well as for federal workers on federal property. Though air travel in August was still down 65% compared to the year before, more passengers are flying now than in the spring.
President Biden has also committed to rejoining the World Health Organization on the first day of his administration.
President Biden aims to reopen most K-8 schools by the end of his first 100 days. The stimulus package would provide $170 billion to support K-12 schools and institutions of higher education through the pandemic. In October, 65% of households with children were using online learning, and 11% of children had not had a live teacher interaction in the past week.
An internal memo from his Chief of Staff Ron Klain also indicates that President Biden will ask the Department of Education to extend the existing pause on federal student loan payments and interest. Former President Donald Trump previously extended this policy in August of last year.
President Biden has promised to reenter the Paris climate accord on his first day in office — the agreement that President Trump decided to exit in 2017 and formally left last year — and convene a climate world summit in his first 100 days. From the outset, President Biden has also promised to implement methane pollution limits, increase fuel economy standards, ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, and enact a plan for net-zero emissions by 2050.
The US produced 6.7 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, with 28% from transportation. Truck and car travel has increased 46% from 1990 to 2018, though electric vehicle use has also trended up.
On day one, President Biden is expected to introduce a bill granting a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the US, a population estimated at 12 million in 2015, the most recent data available.
In the first 100 days, President Biden has also pledged to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border; reform the asylum process; direct humanitarian resources to the border; end prolonged detention; reverse a Trump administration rule that would deny visas to immigrants considered likely to receive public aid; reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; defund further border wall construction; and rescind restrictions on immigration from several countries, many of them Muslim-majority, that President Trump implemented in 2017.
President Biden has promised to pass the Equality Act in his first 100 days, a bill ensuring protection of LGBTQ+ Americans under existing civil rights laws. He has also promised to create a police oversight commission, in addition to supporting the passage of the SAFE Justice Act, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill.
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