Joe Biden has unveiled a $1.9 trillion (€1.5 trillion) coronavirus economic relief package for the US.
The president-elect, who is due to be sworn in to the presidency on 20 January, said at a nationwide address: “We not only have an economic imperative to act now – I believe we have a moral obligation.”
The proposal, called the American Rescue Plan, would speed up the vaccination programme, meeting Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his presidency.
Meanwhile it would provide another round of economic aid, with proposed $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for.
It would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.
The plan would also bring in long-term Democrat policy goals such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers and increasing tax credits for families with children.
Whether the bill will be passed by Congress is another matter – the Democrats have very narrow margins in both chambers, with Republicans likely to push back on certain parts.
“Remember that a bipartisan $900 billion #COVID19 relief bill became law just 18 days ago,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican.
But Biden said that was only a down payment, and he promised more major legislation next month, focused on rebuilding the economy.
“The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there’s not time to waste,” he said. “We have to act and we have to act now.”
His relief bill would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic.
The US remains by far the hardest-hit country in the world in the pandemic, with more than 23 million confirmed cases and 388,000 deaths, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.
Under Biden’s multi pronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
Biden called the vaccine rollout overseen by the outgoing Trump administration “a dismal failure so far”, and said he would provide more details about his vaccination campaign on Friday.
The plan also provides $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration’s first 100 days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.
The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus.