Full House vote could happen this week
Package includes billions for vaccines, therapeutics & testing
As the U.S. marked the tragic milestone of 500,000 deaths due to COVID-19, the House of Representatives budget committee took action to advance the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, a member of the committee, said Congress should move with “speed and urgency” to pass the relief to respond to the economic and public health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, which has “fundamentally altered how we live, work and relate to one another.”
During the discussion on the package, Higgins added, “This bill is pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-worker, and pro-family. It confronts the pandemic head-on, affirms the dignity of work, and protects the health of American workers so that we may have an equitable recovery. The American people are depending on us to act.”
Investments in Vaccines & Therapeutics
Higgins pointed out the package includes critical resources to help treat and prevent coronavirus disease. The bill includes $7.5 billion for the national vaccine distribution effort and an additional $5.2 billion to support further research, development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutic treatments for COVID-19 and potential variants. In addition, $7.6 billion is dedicated to expanding the public health workforce and another $7.6 billion toward supporting health services and outreach conducted by Federally Qualified Health Centers, like those in Western New York. Separately, $46 billion is directed to testing and tracing COVID-19, which is key to slowing the spread and reopening public places.
The Biden administration recently announced plans to expand the direct distribution of vaccines to Western New York with the opening of a New York state and FEMA-run vaccination site at the Delevan Grider Community Center and the selection of two Buffalo-based Federally Qualified Health Centers to be among the first nationwide to receive vaccine supplies directly from the federal government. Higgins is advocating for the Community Health Center of Buffalo, which has a site in the City of Niagara Falls, to be added to this national cohort of vaccine distribution sites.
Relief for Families
Several House committees have been tasked with considering and advancing components of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan proposed by President Joe Biden. Higgins, who also serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, previously announced the work of that committee, which included: $1,400 direct payments for Americans, expanded and extended unemployment benefits, tax credits for families to address child poverty, protections for seniors and retirees, and measures to improve health care affordability. To keep seniors from going without heat or food during this time, the package includes $4.5 billion for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP); and $1.44 billion under the Older Americans Act, which includes $750 million for nutrition programs.
Resources for Schools
Higgins also detailed education funding included in the package to support safe schools and continued learning. Under the bill, school districts in Erie and Niagara counties would receive an estimated $414 million. An additional $40 billion nationwide is included for higher education, with the requirement that 50% of the relief provided to colleges go directly to help students.
Support for Communities
State and local governments, which have been on the front line of fighting the pandemic over the past year, are also provided emergency disaster relief. Higgins listed the more than $792 million communities in Erie and Niagara counties are estimated to receive under the package. Furthermore, $30 billion will be allocated to transit agencies nationwide, plus an additional $8 billion to airports, locally directed to the Niagara Frontier Transpiration Authority (NFTA) to protect workers and services in Western New York.
Help for Small Businesses
The package includes $50 billion for small business relief programs. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program are expanded and extended. Also included, is targeted business relief Higgins fought for, such as $25 billion for grants to struggling restaurants and an additional $1.25 billion through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program.
Approval of the American Rescue Plan by the House budget committee allows the package to now advance for a vote by the full House of Representatives. The vote in the House could happen as soon as this week with the vote in the Senate to follow.