President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a 1.9 trillion dollar (£1.4 trillion) coronavirus plan to end “a crisis of deep human suffering” by speeding up vaccines and pumping out financial help to those struggling with the pandemic’s prolonged economic fallout.
The so-called American Rescue Plan would meet his goals of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration and reopening most schools by the spring.
It also delivers another round of aid to stabilise the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic.
“We not only have an economic imperative to act now — I believe we have a moral obligation,” Mr Biden said in a nationwide address. At the same time, he acknowledged that his plan “does not come cheaply”.
He proposed 1,400 dollar (£1,025) cheques for most Americans, which on top of 600 dollars (£440) provided in the most recent Covid-19 bill would bring the total to the 2,000 dollars (£1,465) Mr Biden has called for.
It would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until September.
And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to 15 dollars (£11) an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised Mr Biden for including liberal priorities, saying they would move quickly to pass it after he takes office next Wednesday, but Democrats have narrow margins in both chambers of Congress, and Republicans will push back on issues that range from increasing the minimum wage to providing more money for states, while demanding inclusion of their priorities, such as liability protection for businesses.
“The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there’s not time to waste,” Mr Biden said. “We have to act and we have to act now.
“We’re better equipped to do this than any nation in the world. But even with all these small steps, it’s going to take time.”
His relief bill would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic.
Aides said Mr Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole.
The plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 385,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the US, asn government numbers on Thursday reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
The pace of vaccination in the US is approaching a million shots a day, but 1.8 million would be needed to reach widespread or “herd” immunity by the summer, according to a recent estimate by the American Hospital Association.
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