President-elect Joe Biden laid out his $1.9 trillion relief package in a prime-time address Thursday — focusing on a new round of stimulus checks to struggling Americans and an ambitious vaccine distribution plan to control the deadly pandemic.
Biden will ask the new Democratic-controlled Congress to approve the “American Rescue Plan.” A chunk of the funds —$416 billion— would help launch a national vaccination program with a goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans and reopening schools in the first 100 days of his administration.
The plan seeks to address a pandemic that continues to worsen. According to NBC News’ Covid-19 data tracker, there have been 384,375 deaths and more than 23 million cases in the U.S.
Biden’s speech was both harrowing and optimistic. He paid tribute to some of those who have died since the pandemic reached American shores and to the millions of people struggling to pay rent, keep their businesses afloat and buy basic needs for their families.
He claimed that his plan would lift millions of people out of poverty, rebuild American industries, reinvest in first-responders and teachers and keep essential front-line workers on the job.
Billions would also be allotted to help small businesses — including minority-owned establishments — low-income families facing homelessness, rent relief, paid family leave, access to affordable child care and better access to federal nutrition programs for children and families. He called for extending nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.
“Just as we are in the midst of a dark winter of this pandemic as cases, hospitalizations and deaths spike at record levels, there is real pain overwhelming the real economy,” he said. “The one where people rely on their paycheck — not their investments — to pay their bills, their meals and their children’s needs.
“And there is no time to wait,” he added. “We have to act and act now.”
Biden’s offered a two-step plan, he said, to build “a better, stronger, more secure America.”
Last month, $600 payments began being disbursed as part of the nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law after delays during which he urged lawmakers to instead send out $2,000 checks. The Democratic-led House passed a bill to greenlight the larger checks, but the legislation was never voted on in the Senate.
He said that relief package was “a down payment,” and he called for “more action, more bipartisanship.”
An extra $1 trillion would be allotted to help struggling Americans with the third round of stimulus checks — giving them $1,400 direct payments, as well as an extra $400 a week for unemployed and other affected workers. Biden is also expected to ask Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour to help front-line workers battling the pandemic.
Biden plans to lay out the second step in his State of the Union speech in February, which he said will detail sizable investments in infrastructure, job training, manufacturing and clean energy, among other areas. He claimed that his plan would create more than 18 million jobs.
“Unity is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. It is a practical step to getting things done,” he said.
The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for its distribution strategy for vaccines. As of Wednesday, from the more than 29 million vaccine doses distributed nationwide, just over 10 million people had received their first doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two senior Biden transition officials said the Trump administration has barely invested in building a federal infrastructure to help states distribute the vaccines.
Biden called Trump’s vaccine rollout “a dismal failure thus far.”
Biden admitted that it would be a challenge to vaccinate millions of American, calling it one of “the most challenging operational efforts” in American history.
“We will move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., approved of the package in a joint statement Thursday before Biden’s remarks.
“These proposals by the Biden-Harris administration will be critical to getting our country through this challenging period and towards a period of recovery. We echo the president-elect’s call for bipartisan action on his proposal and hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to quickly enact it,” they said.
Biden has signaled that he wants a relief bill on his desk by the end of January — a plan that may be complicated because of the impeachment trial that is expected in the Senate in the coming weeks.
A senior transition official said on a briefing call with reporters Thursday before Biden’s address: “We are in a race against time. We need these resources to vaccinate the vast majority of Americans and to put safety measures in place that will help us put Covid behind us so that we can reopen our schools, businesses and once again be able to get there with our friends and family.”
Dartunorro Clark is a political reporter for NBC News.