By Alex Harris
On Thursday, March 11, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan (“ARP”), Congress’s third legislative pandemic response. Despite being second largest by total dollars, ARP is by far the most comprehensive and beneficial for “Main Street”, in both the metaphorical sense referring to regular Americans and in the local sense referring to our town. In strictly local terms, Ridgefield is estimated to receive about $3.5M in direct aid for town and school budgets; this is wholly separate from direct aid to residents, institutions, and the state.
Economists, the medical and scientific communities, leaders of industry, nonprofit organizations, and the vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions, agree ARP is exactly the antidote America needs to combat the pandemic and build a new, broad-based prosperity. Experts and regular citizens alike favor ARP based on its broad strokes, but like it even more as they learn its details in depth.
Unlike previous rescue efforts in current and previous crises, ARP is designed to comprehensively mitigate misery and vulnerabilities as broadly as possible, and to specifically target aid to middle-income and lower-income households. Unlike prior piecemeal or top-down/trickle-down approaches, ARP proceeds from a holistic, bottoms-up approach that flows from America’s long-proven traditional faith in the middle class as THE engine of our strength. The Biden-Harris Administration and Congressional Democrats built ARP with the knowledge and conviction that providing ample opportunities for each American to work their way into and remain a permanent member of the middle class is the only way to make and keep America great.
ARP delivers on its unifying American promise to fortify the middle class in myriad ways, including, but not limited to:
Pandemic Testing & Vaccination: ARP provides over $125B for: vaccine distribution/assistance; virus testing, mitigation, diagnosis, tracing, and monitoring; vaccine research, development, manufacture, production, and purchase; aid to states and community health centers; and personal protective equipment (“PPE”).
Families/households: Delivering on Democrats’ election promises, individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 will receive direct payments of $1,400 per person (in addition to the previously authorized $600/person, bringing total payments to $2,000/person), plus an additional $1,400 payment for each dependent claimed on their tax returns. Payments phase out from $100,000 to $80,000 for individuals, and from $200,000 to $160,000 for couples filing jointly. ARP also temporarily expands and increases the federal child tax credit to $3,000 for children ages 6-17 and to $3,600 for children below age 6, gradually reducing the amount for annual incomes over $150,000 for couples and over $75,000 for individuals. Families will receive payments of up to $300 per child per month from July through the end of the year.
Small businesses: ARP provides: (1) $29B in new grants for restaurants, food, and drinking establishments; (2) $7.25B in new funding to the previously established Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and expands the program to many more nonprofit organizations; (3) $15B for Emergency Injury Disaster Loans to severely impacted small businesses with fewer than 10 workers; (3) $1.25B for the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program; (4) $10.4B for agriculture industry programs and (5) $175M for a Community Navigator Program to reach out to eligible businesses.
Schools: ARP provides: (1) $130B to state/local education budgets; (2) $40B to institutions of higher education; (3) and $15B to the Child Care & Development Block Grant program for childcare facilities.
State and local governments: ARP provides $350B to help state, local, and tribal governments bridge budget shortfalls and mitigate the fiscal shock.
Transportation: For America’s beleaguered transportation systems, ARP provides: (1) $31B for commuter rail and public transit operations; (2) $15B for airlines and airline employees; (3) $8B for airports: and (4) $2B for Amtrak.
Unemployment: ARP extends the previously set-to-expire $300/week supplemental unemployment insurance payments through 9/6/ 2021, with the first $10,200 in unemployment payments nontaxable for households with incomes less than $150,000.
Low-income & Elderly: ARP provides: (1) $4.5B in new funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (“LIHEAP”); (2) a temporary 4-month boost of up to $35/month for women and children under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (“WIC”); (3) $1.4B in funding nutrition programs, community-based support programs, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for older Americans.
Healthcare: ARP: (1) subsidizes 100% of COBRA premiums in 2021; (2) temporarily removes the “welfare cliff” on Obamacare premium subsidies for anyone whose premiums are more than 8.5% of their income; (3) temporarily increases Obamacare subsidies to low-income households; (3) requires coverage of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and (4) adds new incentives for states to expand Medicaid coverage.
Due to the pervasive extremism of today’s Republican establishment, ARP was passed without a single Republican vote. This occurred despite Democrats having joined Republicans in passing the larger first pandemic response bill during an election year when political advantages of passage flowed entirely to Republicans. Nonetheless, ARP is a UNIFYING national accomplishment because it enjoys the overwhelming support of and will broadly benefit ALL Americans.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.