President-elect Joe Biden is to unveil a 1.9 trillion dollar coronavirus plan in a bid to turn the tide on the pandemic.
He wants to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide more financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.
Called the American Rescue Plan, the legislative proposal would meet Mr Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by spring.
On a parallel track, it would deliver another round of aid to stabilise the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic, said aides who described the plan ahead of a speech by Mr Biden on Thursday evening.
It includes 1,400 dollar cheques for most Americans, which on top of 600 dollars provided in the most recent Covid-19 Bill would bring the total to the 2,000 dollars that Mr Biden has called for.
And it shoehorns in the long-term Democratic policy aim of increasing the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour and expanding paid leave for workers across the economy.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said Mr Biden’s proposal will be his first order of business this year.
The emergency legislation would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic.
Aides said Mr Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole.
Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable.
Mr Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably linked with controlling the coronavirus. “Our work begins with getting Covid under control,” he declared in his victory speech. “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most precious moments.”
The plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet.
So far, more than 385,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the US. And government numbers on Thursday reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
Under Mr Biden’s multi-pronged strategy, about 400 billion dollars would go directly to combating the pandemic while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About 20 billion dollars would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some 8 billion dollars already approved by Congress. Mr Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centres and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
The plan provides 50 billion dollars to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration’s first 100 days. About 130 billion dollars would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.
The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those infected with the coronavirus.
There is also a proposal to boost investment in genetic sequencing, to help track new virus strains including the more contagious variants identified in the UK and South Africa.
Throughout the plan, there is a focus on ensuring that minority communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic are not short-changed on vaccines and treatments, aides said.