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Biden unveils $1.9 tn economic plan as US recovery buckles


WILMINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden will propose injecting $1.9 trillion into the US economy when he takes office next week, as evidence mounts that the recovery from the sharp downturn caused by COVID-19 is flagging.

With his fellow Democrats narrowly controlling both houses of Congress, Biden has a shot at passing what would be the United States’ third massive pandemic aid package.

Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the proposal released on Thursday includes a host of measures aimed at revitalising the world’s largest economy.

Biden aims to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, help struggling state and local governments, safely reopen schools, roll out a massive COVID-19 vaccination campaign and raise the size of stimulus checks Congress approved last month.

“The return on these investment in jobs, racial equity will prevent long-term economic damage, and the benefits will far surpass the cost,” Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. “In this moment of crisis... we cannot afford inaction.”

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi embraced Biden’s plan, vowing to put it before lawmakers.

“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 said in a joint statement.

But this is just the first step, and the officials said Biden intends to present a second “recovery” plan to lawmakers soon after his inauguration on Wednesday aimed at spurring hiring and fighting climate change.

“We’ll use taxpayers’ dollars to rebuild America. We’ll buy American products, supporting millions of American manufacturing jobs, enhancing our competitive strength in an increasingly competitive world,” Biden said.

The government on Thursday reported a spike in new jobless claim filings in the first week of 2021 to nearly a million, its highest level since August, while official data last week showed the economy shed jobs in December.

Biden, 78, will take office after a tumultuous transition that saw a violent mob invade the US Capitol, egged on by outgoing President Donald Trump, as lawmakers were meeting to certify the Democrat’s election victory.

His stimulus proposal builds on two massive relief packages Congress approved in 2020, both increasing and extending through September unemployment benefits that have helped tens of millions of people pay their bills after losing their jobs during the pandemic.

It additionally calls for devising a way to maintain those programmes if unemployment stays high, and also continues expanded

government food assistance as the country struggles with some of its highest hunger levels in modern times.

But controversy could await the plan’s provision of $350 billion in funding to state and local governments, which Republican lawmakers blocked throughout last year.

Also potentially challenging is the president-elect’s move to increase the size of stimulus checks Americans received in the December package to $2,000, which would fulfil a campaign promise. — AFP

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