WASHINGTON – The U.S. House on Wednesday passed a massive spending bill intended to offset the health and economic damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic that will send direct payments to millions of Texans and billions of dollars in aid for state and local governments and schools.
The measure will now head to President Joe Biden's desk. Biden is expected to sign it on Friday.
Known as the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion bill shores up and builds upon previous COVID-19 spending bill provisions. But while the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that passed almost a year ago had significant buy-in from both parties, the American Rescue Plan passed solely with Democratic votes in both the House and Senate. On Saturday, both of the state's Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted against the bill.
The bill's scope is sweeping. Broadly speaking, it will distribute stimulus checks as large $1,400 to millions of Americans, another $350 billion to cities and states that experienced a decline in tax revenue and increase in expenses and $130 billion toward education. The bill also funds an additional $300 in unemployment payments per week until early September.
But within that massive $1.9 trillion sum, there are also specific provisions to financially bolster American farmers, the food supply, imperiled restaurants, vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, medical supplies, the health care workforce, refitting public elementary and secondary schools to mitigate transmission of the virus, students who've experienced a lag in learning over the last year, childhood and adult nutrition, homeowners and renters, national endowments for the arts and humanities, childcare, funeral assistance, veterans, airlines, airports, nursing facilities, aid for state and local governments and support for union pensions.
It also includes an expanded child income tax credit that starting this summer could allow for the distribution to parents of checks to of up to $250 dollars per month for school-aged children and $300 per month for children under 5. Researchers have estimated that it could lift around 40% of children out of poverty.
U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, touted his contributions of money for small business lending and toward enforcing fair housing into the bill.
“When the deadly novel coronavirus reached the United States more than a year ago, many of us would have never imagined the severe health and economic toll it would take on our nation," he said in a news release. "However, it has been and continues to be my priority to ensure all my constituents – including those who have suffered from contracting the virus themselves or losing a loved one to it, job loss, inadequate access to health care, hunger, risk of eviction or foreclosure, or business closure – receive the necessary relief to weather and recover from this storm."
Republicans have opposed the bill, however, saying that it's too broad and includes massive amounts of spending that is permanent and not directly related to coronavirus. They blamed Democrats for the lack of GOP support for the legislation.
"It's because this is not COVID relief. It's a two-trillion dollar blue state boondoggle and a Trojan horse for their reckless partisan policies," said U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Lubbock, on the House floor. "It's because Speaker Pelosi is throwing your tax dollars at Democrat cronies like a float captain throws beads at a Mardi Gras parade."
The House passed a previous version of this bill in late February but Democratic moderates in the Senate were successful in scaling back the legislation. The original House bill also included a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled out that provision.
Like most of the major spending and tax cut bills passed by both parties over the last decade, the American Rescue Plan is expected to contribute to the federal deficit. Most economists argue, however, in favor of some deficit spending during periods of economic distress.