WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Monday that his administration was on pace to achieve two key goals by March 25: 100 million shots of Covid-19 vaccines since his inauguration and 100 million direct payments under his economic relief bill.
The announcement was the first in what promises to be a series of end-zone dances that Mr. Biden and administration officials are set to stage this week as they promote the $1.9 trillion package that the president signed into law last week.
“Shots in arms and money in pockets. That’s important,” Mr. Biden said in a brief address from the White House. “The American Rescue Plan is already doing what it was designed to do: make a difference in people’s everyday lives.”
Over the weekend, the Treasury Department began issuing direct electronic payments of $1,400 per person, as authorized by the law, to low- and middle-income Americans. The United States has administered 92.6 million vaccine doses since Jan. 20, when Mr. Biden took office, according to data released on Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the current pace of vaccinations, the country will pass 100 million doses before the end of the week, well ahead of the president’s promise of March 25.
But the relief plan includes dozens of other provisions that have yet to be carried out, such as new monthly checks for parents, $350 billion for state and local governments and additional relief for the unemployed.
With so much money at stake and Republicans criticizing the package as wasteful, Mr. Biden vowed to bring “fastidious oversight” to the relief bill in order to ensure that it is distributed quickly and equitably.
He introduced Gene Sperling, a longtime Democratic policy aide who advised Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign last year, as his pick to oversee spending from the relief package. Mr. Sperling will be a senior adviser to the president and a White House employee, operating independently from an oversight commission established by Congress during the pandemic that consists of inspectors general from various agencies.
“We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them, and that they can do it without waste or fraud,” Mr. Biden said.
His remarks came as his team prepared to fan out across the country for a week of sales pitches for a bill that has proved very popular with voters but garnered zero Republican votes.
Mr. Biden will visit Delaware County, Pa., on Tuesday and appear with Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday in Atlanta, which helped deliver Democrats the Senate majority that made the relief plan possible.
A group of administration officials, including the first lady, Jill Biden, and Ms. Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, will make their own trips. Ms. Harris and her husband landed in Las Vegas for an event on Monday afternoon, while Dr. Biden finished an event in New Jersey.
The road show is an effort to avoid the messaging mistakes of President Barack Obama’s administration, which Democrats believe failed to continue vocally building support for his $780 billion stimulus act after it passed in 2009. The challenge for the Biden administration will be to highlight less obvious provisions, including the largest federal infusion in generations of aid to the poor, a substantial expansion of the child tax credit and increased subsidies for health insurance.
Mr. Sperling’s challenge will be to meet Mr. Biden’s promises of transparency and accountability for those programs.
The president and White House officials called Mr. Sperling well qualified for the task. He was the director of the National Economic Council under Mr. Obama and President Bill Clinton. In the Obama administration, where he first served as a counselor in the Treasury Department, Mr. Sperling helped to coordinate a bailout of Detroit automakers and other parts of the administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.
He advised Mr. Biden’s campaign informally in 2020, helping to hone the campaign’s “Build Back Better” policy agenda. Friends have described Mr. Sperling in recent months as eager to join the administration; he had been mentioned as a possible appointee to lead the Office of Management and Budget after Mr. Biden’s first nominee for that position, Neera Tanden, withdrew amid Senate opposition.
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
Mr. Sperling’s challenge with the rescue plan will be different than the one Mr. Biden faced in 2009, because the relief bill differs starkly from Mr. Obama’s signature stimulus plan. The Biden plan is more than twice as large as Mr. Obama’s. It includes money meant to hasten the end of the pandemic, including billions for vaccine deployment and coronavirus testing. The plans also have similarities, including more than $400 billion each in total spending for school districts and state and local governments.
Oversight of the $1.9 trillion relief legislation is currently expected to rely on the byzantine oversight architecture that was established in the stimulus packages Congress passed last year.
The new effort will continue to rely on the Government Accountability Office and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a panel of inspectors general from across the federal government.
Less clear is the fate of the Congressional Oversight Commission, the five-person bipartisan panel that was created to oversee the $500 billion Treasury Department fund that supported the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs and loans to airlines and companies that are critical to national security. The commission currently has only three members, and the Fed programs concluded at the end of last year.
The commission’s report in January said that it planned to continue “analyzing loans, loan guarantees and investments that were made prior to program termination” and producing reports.
It is not clear if the existing mechanisms will be sufficient for overseeing the money in the new relief package, which will pump billions of dollars into states and cities. Additional oversight measures are likely to be needed.
A Treasury official said that the department would set up a process to monitor the use of funds that are being sent to states to ensure that they are used according to the eligibility requirements in the law.
Like many Americans in the pandemic, Mr. Sperling will have to coordinate and navigate those efforts virtually, at least at first. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that Mr. Sperling would work remotely from his home in California until he is vaccinated.
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