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Biden signs $1.9T stimulus, including $1,400 checks

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President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Thursday, infusing more than billion dollars into Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITE HOUSE

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus bill Thursday afternoon, capping his biggest legislative achievement of his early presidency with the second largest economic relief bill in the nation’s history less than a year after its largest, the CARES Act.

The president was set to discuss the bill in an 8 p.m. public address from the White House.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation – working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country – a fighting chance,” he told reporters while signing the legislation Thursday afternoon.

The bill was not an assured accomplishment, despite the considerable economic recovery still facing a nation battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. No Congressional Republicans voted for the bill, opposing it as lavishing spending on non-pandemic-related costs and criticizing Democrats’ unsuccessful attempt to include a $15 federal minimum wage in the bill.

The funding package provides a direct allocation of federal assistance of about $1.36 billion to Delaware and its municipalities, according to Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons’ office.

The most talked-about aspect of the bill is the inclusion of direct stimulus checks up to $1,400 per person, including dependents. Those payments are scaled back for individuals making more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000. Those individuals making $80,000 or more and couples earning more than $160,000 won’t receive them at all.

The bill also extends expanded unemployment benefits with a $300 weekly supplement through Labor Day, preventing benefits from expiring on March 31.

Perhaps the most impactful change on most middle-class families, however, will be changes to the nation’s child tax credit. It will be increased from $2,000 to up to $3,600 for each child under 6. Child between 6 and 17 would be an eligible dependent for a $3,000 credit.

The federal childcare tax credit is also increased under the bill. It is currently worth 20% to 35% of eligible expenses, capped at $2,100 for two or more individuals, but would move to $4,000 for one individual or $8,000 for two or more.

“Sadly, poverty is a true reality for thousands of Delaware youth,” said John Wellons, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, in a statement. “The changes to the Child Tax Credit will deliver critical funds to struggling households, enabling parents to support immediate and longer-term needs for their children.”

America’s vaccination effort will be bolstered by $20 billion in spending under the bill with another $50 billion dedicated to testing and contact tracing, which aims to contain the virus as quickly as possible.

Coons successfully fought for $1 billion to bolster AmeriCorps and its engagement on COVID-19 – from tutoring students to combat learning loss to expanding capacity at food banks and handling logistics at vaccination centers.

“With this AmeriCorps funding, we can empower thousands of Americans who want to serve their communities while meeting a host of urgent needs,” he said in a statement. “This investment is a down payment on our recovery that will enable us to emerge stronger than ever.”

The American Rescue Plan includes a new $25 billion grant program for restaurants that Coons co-authored to help some of the hardest-hit businesses survive. It also contains $10 billion for the State Small Business Credit Initiative, or SSBCI, which gives longer-term support to Delaware entrepreneurs, helping their businesses emerge from the pandemic and continue growing. 

The SSBCI is a reboot of a state-led small business lending program, which Delaware used to successfully lend to 110 businesses after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Coons was an original co-sponsor of the bills to advance these two new business support initiatives: the RESTAURANTS Act and the Small Business Access to Capital Act.

“We appreciate Sen. Coons for championing and advocating for restaurants,” said Carrie Leishman, president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, in a statement. “The passage of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the other programs in this bill will support restaurants across Delaware, helping put our small businesses on the road to recovery. We also appreciate the Senate’s action in increasing the size of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to $28.6 billion, which underscores the fact that restaurants are in vital transition. This relief will help support our restaurants as they begin the long road to recovery.”

Coons also advocated for hospital support in the American Rescue Plan, pushing to update the imputed rural floor policy, which restores equitable reimbursement rates for Delaware hospitals. The longstanding policy, which the Trump administration rescinded three years ago, ensures nationwide equity in federal health plan reimbursements.

“Under the Trump reversal, hospitals in three small states have grappled with COVID-19 while receiving millions less from Medicare than similarly situated hospitals in larger states,” Coons said. “The pandemic has made ever more urgent the need to treat hospitals and health systems in all states equitably.”

“On behalf of our shared constituency of patients and employees, I want to thank Senators Coons and Carper and Rep. Blunt Rochester for once again leveling the playing field for the hospitals of Delaware by ensuring we can participate in this important national program,” said Penny Short, president of TidalHealth Nanticoke Hospital, in a statement. “When Congress first established the rural floor, they intended it to apply to all 50 states; now, thanks to the persistence and perseverance of our delegation, they have finally corrected CMS’s erroneous interpretation of the statute and have guaranteed that TidalHealth Nanticoke and our colleague hospitals will have access to these critical resources in perpetuity. This is a tremendous victory for our state.”

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