A Senate impeachment trial, the aftermath of a deadly insurrection, racial tensions at a boiling point and a myriad of unresolved or questionable foreign policies count among the many challenges facing the newly empowered Biden administration.
Perhaps the biggest – or at least of immediate concern – remains the coronavirus pandemic+ which former President Donald Trump mostly ignored and dangerously flippant.
The underlining challenge to the pandemic is health care, which Trump spent four years weakening and attempting to dismantle completely, is the Affordable Care Act.
With that, President Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, which he titled “American Rescue Plan.”
The plan includes direct payments of $1,400 stimulus checks to struggling Americans, increased federal unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week through the end of September and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The President also proposed a new $15 billion grant program for struggling small business owners, separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program, along with a $35 billion investment in local financing programs that provide businesses with low-interest loans.
He stated that the package would provide additional support for American workers and families until the COVID-19 vaccine is more widely available.
According to a memorandum circulated by incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and first obtained by the New York Times, Biden’s first day in office will include “a flurry of executive orders that will be partly substantive and partly symbolic.”
They include: rescinding the travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; extending pandemic-related limits on evictions and student loan payments; issuing a mask mandate for federal property and interstate travel; and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border.
“A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight and there is no time to wait; we have to act now,” the new President said. “In this moment of crisis, we cannot afford inaction. These investments in jobs will prevent long-term economic damage and the benefits will far surpass the cost.”
President Biden’s overall plan also calls for the restoration of emergency paid sick leave, $350 billion in aid for state and local governments and $170 billion to assist K-12 schools and institutes of higher learning.
Additionally, the plan includes extending eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until the end of September with $5 billion pledged to help tenants struggling to pay rent.
The ambitious plan also contains $50 billion for coronavirus testing with $20 billion toward a national vaccine program. Biden also wants to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent through September and raise the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child – $3,600 for children under 6. Further, he hopes to make the Child Tax Credit refundable for the year.
Because of Trump’s assault on the Affordable Care Act – health care in general – the percentage of uninsured Americans rose dramatically in the three years since President Barack Obama left office.
In November, the Supreme Court heard arguments by Republican attorneys general and the Trump administration, all of whom sought to repeal Obama’s signature legislation.
Biden’s team estimates that roughly two to three million people lost employer-sponsored health insurance between March and September of 2020. Biden said even families who have maintained coverage might struggle to pay premiums and afford care.
As the U.S. entered the pandemic, 30 million people were without coverage, limiting their access to the health care system in the middle of a national health crisis.
To ensure access to health coverage, President Biden has called on Congress to subsidize continuation health coverage (COBRA) through the end of September. He plans to also ask Congress to expand and increase the Premium Tax Credit’s value.
Additionally, he wants to lower or eliminate health insurance premiums and ensure that enrollees, including those who never had coverage through their jobs, will not pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for coverage.
“During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck,” Biden said. “The very health of our nation is at stake.”
In acknowledging the toll the pandemic and racism have taken on Black America, the President also plans to address racial disparities as indicated in his promise to increase funding for community health centers.
With America’s jails and prisons disproportionately populated by African Americans, Biden added that he wants to financially support efforts to help mitigate the impact the virus has had behind bars.
And he addressed the growing hunger crisis that also primarily affects minority communities.
“More than one-in-five Black and Latino households in America report that they do not have enough food to eat,” the President remarked. “It’s wrong. It’s tragic. It’s unacceptable.”