"The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there's no time to waste,” President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday night, laying out in detail his plans to help Americans survive the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and restart the lagging economy.
Thursday’s address marks the first of Biden’s two-part plan to deal with the coronavirus crisis in the country, saying he will roll out the “Rescue” portion on his first day in office. The second part — which Biden referred to as the “Recovery” effort — will be implemented in February.
"Our rescue and recovery plan is a path forward with both seriousness of purpose and a clear plan, with transparency and accountability, with a call for unity that is equally necessary,” Biden said Thursday, adding: "Come Wednesday, we begin a new chapter. The Vice President-elect and I will do our best to meet all the expectations you have for the country and the expectations we have for it. I'm confident, together we can get this done.”
Biden released the details of his $1.9 trillion plan earlier in the day, and the price tag is likely to startle more fiscally conservative Republicans. The president-elect acknowledged such concerts, saying: "I know what I described does not come cheaply, but failure to do so will cost us dearly.”
"Direct cash payments, extended unemployed insurance, rent relief, food assistance, keeping essential frontline workers on the job, aid to small businesses. These are the key elements to the American rescue plan that would lift 12 million Americans out of poverty,” Biden said.
Much of the president-elect’s plan focuses on providing assistance directly to everyday Americans, including a $1,400 direct payment, a request to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and an additional $400 per week in unemployment benefits through September.
Calling the vaccine rollout under President Trump a “dismal failure thus far," Biden said his own administration will work to immediately scale up the pace of production and distribution of vaccines. Biden will deliver an address Friday afternoon outlining his plan to administer 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office.
"This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts we have ever undertaken as a nation,” Biden said. “We will have to move Heaven and Earth to get more people vaccinated."
Biden’s address, which made no direct mention of President Trump nor the violence on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, was marked by an overarching theme of unity, which the president-elect said is not unattainable.
"The decisions we make in the next few weeks and months are going to determine whether we thrive in a way that benefits all Americans or stay stuck in a place where those at the top do great, while economic growth for most everyone else is just a spectator sport,” Biden said, finishing with a solemn pledge: "I will always be honest with you about the progress we've made and the setbacks we meet.”
Here is what the proposal, dubbed the "American Rescue Plan," calls for:
- $1,400 checks for most Americans, which, on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill, would bring the total to $2,000
- An increase in the federal unemployment benefit to $400 per week, and extension through the end of September
- A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September
- Increasing federal minimum wage to $15 per hour
- $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic
- $50 billion to expand testing
- About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen
- $20 billion allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress
- Funding 100,000 public health workers to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on contact tracing
Biden made poverty and inequality a major focus of his speech, specifically noting that his economic plan would "lift 12 million Americans out of poverty and cut child poverty in half."
"That’s 5 million children lifted out of poverty," he noted.
"As I speak, and as Vice President-elect Harris has spoken about this many times, 1 in 7 households in America — more than 1 in 5 Black and Latino households in America – report that they do not have enough food to eat," he said. "This includes 30 million adults and as many as 12 million children. It’s wrong. It’s tragic. It’s unacceptable."
Biden pledged in his plan to "extend emergency nutrition assistance for 43 million children and families enrolled in the SNAP program," as well as "help hard-hit restaurants prepare meals for the hungry and provide food for families who need it."
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said Biden's proposal will be his first order of business this year. The emergency legislation would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic.
In a joint statement issued Thursday night, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) praised the plan: "With the COVID-rescue package the President-elect announced today, he is moving swiftly to deliver that help and to meet the needs of the American people. House and Senate Democrats express gratitude toward and look forward to working with the President-elect on the rescue plan."
“American families face an extraordinary combination of health and economic crises – from COVID-19 to racial inequality to climate change – all of which demand big, bold and immediate action," they added. "The emergency relief framework announced by the incoming Biden-Harris Administration tonight is the right approach. It shows that Democrats will finally have a partner at the White House that understands the need to take swift action to address the needs of struggling communities."
“We will get right to work to turn President-elect Biden’s vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law," they vowed.
Aides said Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole. Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the plan ahead of his speech Thursday night.
Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably linked with controlling the coronavirus. “Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” he declared in his victory speech. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments."
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 U.S. And government numbers out 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.
Biden believes the key to speeding that up lies not only in delivering more vaccine but also in working closely with states and local communities to get shots into the arms of more people. The Trump administration provided the vaccine to states and set guidelines for who should get priority for shots, but largely left it up to state and local officials to organize their vaccination campaigns.
Biden has set a goal of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days. The pace of vaccination is approaching 1 million shots a day, but 1.8 million a day would be needed to reach widespread or “herd” immunity by the summer, according to a recent estimate by the American Hospital Association. Wen says the pace should be even higher — closer to 3 million a day.
Next Wednesday, when Biden will be sworn in as president, marks the anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.