Note: Since the taping of this podcast, the stimulus package has been passed by the Senate, and now is going back to the House of Representatives for final approval.
Jimmy: Hello! Welcome back to NBN politics. For those of you that don’t want to scroll through 1,000 Google pages on the latest political news, we’re here to give you the Sparknotes version. I’m Jimmy.
Ali: And I’m Ali.
Jimmy: And we’re your co-hosts. This week we are diving into the third, and most recent stimulus package! Will we be getting the stimulus checks everyone’s been talking about?
Ali: The House just passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package called the American Rescue Plan to help families that are struggling because of COVID-19. The bill includes a child tax credit, which basically means families could receive over $3,000 from the IRS per child.
It also includes housing assistance, where $30 billion is being invested in helping people pay their rent, and another $5 billion to prevent COVID outbreaks in homeless communities. But, it doesn’t extend the national eviction moratorium, which temporarily stopped landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic.
The bill includes a third stimulus payment for $1,400, and this time adult dependents can get one too. College students, you get money! People with disabilities who are dependents, you get money! Elderly dependents, you too get money!
But, it's not as much money as Biden promised. On the campaign trail, Biden was promising $2,000 stimulus checks.
In unveiling the plan, Biden said, “We will finish the job of getting a total of $2,000 in cash relief to people who need it the most.” Some argue that the $1,400 is a supplement to the $600 payments given out in January, but some congressional democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cory Booker are calling Biden out on Twitter for not actually holding up his promises.
The American Rescue plan also includes unemployment insurance, so unemployed people get $400 a week. And, it extends key unemployment programs until August 29. It includes $20 billion for a COVID vaccine program, and $50 billion for testing.
Basically, you’re getting money. But, the amount of money you’re getting may vary based on your income. The good thing is, there’s a bunch of calculators and things online to help you find out how much you might be getting. It’s just a Google search away.
Now the question is: when is the bill going to be enacted? What happens next? What exactly is the process for enacting a bill like this?
Jimmy: The bill first went to the House of Representatives, where it passed by 219-212 votes. All Republicans, along with two Democrats, voted against the bill.
The Democrats also tried to include a minimum wage bill in the stimulus package. If this bill was passed, it would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, which is more than double the current minimum wage.
Now, including the bill in the stimulus package would make it much easier to pass because it would only require a simple majority of votes, which is 50 or more senators of the 100 person Senate. The process that is usually required for passing legislation would’ve required 60 votes instead.
However, this minimum wage bill was struck down before it could be voted on in the Senate. The Senate parliamentarian, whose job is to help interpret the rules and precedents in the Senate, ruled that the bill could not be included in the stimulus package because it does not have a big enough impact on the budget.
Lawmakers will start the process of amending, or making changes to, the stimulus bill. They will debate about bill details before the bill moves to the Senate for a vote.
Now a key date in mind is March 14 because that’s the day federal unemployment benefits end, and if no bill is passed by then, millions of Americans will be left without aid.
But how have both sides reacted to the bill, Ali?
Ali: Well, it’s like you said Jimmy, no Republicans voted on passing this bill. But some Republicans have a bigger problem with the American Rescue Plan than others.
There’s one part of the bill we haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the $350 billion that are going directly to states. This money is supposed to make up for the lack of tax revenue, so each state is getting aid in proportion to their unemployment rates. States with more unemployment, where more people were out of work because more businesses closed down, get more funding from the federal government.
In a statement released just as The American Rescue Plan was being passed in the House, 21 Republican governors and one Democrat governor said that this is a biased allocation of funds that punishes states that didn’t fully shut down.
The statement said, "A state’s ability to keep businesses open and people employed should not be a penalizing factor when distributing funds. If Congress is going to provide aid to states, it should be on an equitable population basis.”
House Republicans have said that this funding formula prioritizes states run by Democrats. Thirty three states will receive less funding through the unemployment model than they would through population based funding, and the majority of these states are run by Republican governors.
But this bill isn’t completely partisan. Thirty two Republican mayors have openly supported the American Rescue Plan. This aid would go directly towards paying firefighters and police officers who suffered from budget cuts, keeping public facilities like libraries open, and reopening public schools.
Now, this bill could not come at a better time. As we move into March, almost hitting a year of quarantine and the pandemic shutdown, families are now more than ever in need of financial assistance, especially in Texas. Tell us about Texas, Jimmy.
Jimmy: Well Ali, starting the week of February 15th, millions of Texans were left without power and water after snowstorms and cold temperatures caused the state’s power grids to fail.
This was Texas’s worst power outage in a decade. Over 4 million customers were without power. Many households had to melt snow just to have drinking water and so they could flush their toilets.
Even worse, some residents saw their monthly electric bills jump up from a few hundred dollars at most to thousands. This is because Texas has a deregulated power system.
This means companies get to choose how to charge their customers. Some companies charge a flat rate for power, while others vary their prices based on supply and demand. As a result, prices spiked unbelievably following the statewide power outages. In fact, one power company, Griddy Energy, is even facing a class action lawsuit for gouging its prices.
Not only will stimulus checks from the stimulus bill help those struggling in Texas, but according to TIME, the Biden administration has signaled that after the stimulus bill, the administration is planning to push a stimulus package that would put people to work rebuilding infrastructure.
Ali: This is the third stimulus package in a year of COVID-19. For more dummy politics, and to not be clueless about that random check you got in the mail, tune into Politics for Dummies.
Ali Bianco and Jimmy He, reporting for NBN.
Graphic by Amy Guo.