This is the third major relief bill meant to stem the financial damage from the pandemic: Democrats praised its scope, saying it brought much needed aid, while Republicans uniformly opposed it as exorbitant

By Sean Neumann
March 11, 2021 03:32 PM
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Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan on March 11, 2021
Joe Biden
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

On Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden signed into law a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package — guaranteeing both another round of stimulus checks to most families and an enormous influx of government money into households against the backdrop of a historic pandemic.

The legislation is the third major economic relief package Congress has passed since COVID-19 began spreading in the U.S, killing more than half a million people and cratering large swaths of the economy.

Two previous bills were signed under President Donald Trump after being approved by bipartisan majorities in Congress.

The latest bill is also broadly popular with the public, surveys show, though it passed through Congress' Democratic majority while facing uniform opposition from Republicans who said it was exorbitant and unfocused — less needed aid than Trojan Horse for liberal priorities.

Not so, said Biden, who notched a significant victory in seeing the package become law with few notable changes from his original proposal.

"The vast majority of Americans, regardless of who they voted for in the last election, support the American Rescue Plan," the president, 78, said Thursday, referring to the legislation.

After the Senate passed it last weekend, he said, "This nation has suffered too much for much too long. Everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation and put us in a better position to prevail."

At Thursday's signing ceremony, he added another goal: "It will lift half of Americans children living in poverty out of poverty."

Biden said the American peoples' "voices were heard" before he signed the bill and then emphatically put down his pen and walked out of the Oval Office with a big smile alongside Vice President Kamala Harris.

"I believe this historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country," Biden said, adding that it will give the U.S. middle class "a fighting chance."

Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan on March 11, 2021
President Joe Biden
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

What's in the COVID-19 Bill?

In broad terms, the bill includes stimulus checks for Americans making less than $80,000 as well as significant funding for local governments, for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, for schools, for unemployment benefits and for expanding tax credits for families.

Single individuals making up to $75,000 will receive a $1,400 stimulus check in the coming weeks, while families earning up to $150,000 will be eligible for the full amounts as well.

Dependents will also receive $1,400 checks. People making between $75,000-80,000 will receive smaller amounts.

A single parent with dependents who earns up to $112,500 will receive the full $1,400 amount as will their dependents. Any single parent with dependents making up to $120,000 will still receive a check, but for a lesser amount.

The package also extends jobless benefits through Sept. 6, including providing $300 per week to individuals receiving unemployment.

Upwards of 40 million people in the U.S. lost work last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

While the economy is recovering, The Washington Post reports there were still more than 10 million people who were out of work as of last month.

The latest bill will also send $350 billion to state and local governments, as well as giving local governments $20 billion to help low-income households cover rent and utility payments, CNN reports.

Thursday's signing ends weeks of debate between Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who argued over the staggering size of the spending package. (At one point, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson's forced Senate clerks to read through the bill word-for-word.)

The new $1.9 trillion bill is less than last March's initial $2.2 trillion relief package but more than the $900 billion aid package last December.

Biden had also sought to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 over a five-year period, but that provision was removed under the rules of the method Democrats used to pass the bill through the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer delivers remarks during a press conference following the Senate Democratic policy luncheon in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA 02 March 2021
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
| Credit: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
| Credit: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty

"This is an absolute ram job by the Democrats," Rep. Tom Rice, a Republican, said this week. Rep. Carol Miller, another Republican, called the bill a "liberal wish list," echoing her party's general feelings.

Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat, countered that it was "an excellent bill," and Rep. David Scott, another Democratic lawmaker, said the massive levels of federal spending are "going to help our nation survive."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday called the bill "a remarkable, historic, transformative piece of legislation," adding she believed the spending "goes a very long way to crushing the virus and solving our economic crisis."

Biden will give a primetime address about the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday night.

The president will then begin a cross-country tour on Friday touting the details of the package.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDCWHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.