Biden Signs Relief Package; White House Says Stimulus Checks on the Way

President Joe Biden making his first nationally televised address.

When the U.S. House passed the Senate’s version of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, early estimates were that Biden would sign the deal on Friday.

Turns out, the president didn’t wait that long.

Biden signed the package — the American Rescue Plan – into law Thursday afternoon, hours before making his first nationally televised address since his January inauguration. Despite the lack of Republican support – not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for it – the bill is pretty popular among voters.

In a Pew Research poll, 70% of Americans favored the legislation, including more than 40% of Republicans.

“It’s clear that an overwhelming percentage of the American people, Democrats, independents, our Republican friends, have made it clear, the people out there made it clear they strongly support the American rescue plan. Yesterday with the final passage of the plan in the House of Representatives, their voices were heard,” Biden said Thursday.

The signing gives Biden a major victory on what he has said all along is his top priority.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country, and giving people of this nation, working people, middle class folks, people who built the country a fighting chance,” Biden said before singing the bill.

Among the provisions in the bill:

  • Individuals making less than $80,000 and families making less than $160,000 would get a direct payment of $1,400 per person. Not everyone who was eligible for a check the last time around will get one now.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that relief checks could show up in bank accounts as early as this weekend.

  • Unemployed workers will receive a $300 weekly federal boost in benefits, and those benefits would stretch through September. It was one of the elements that had senators negotiating so long. The deal also would extend two pandemic jobless benefits programs for the same period, and make the first $10,200 of unemployment payments tax-free. The House bill would have made the weekly benefits $400.
  • Both versions of the bill would continue a 15% increase in benefits for food stamps through September.
  • Both bills have some $20 billion for state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent, rent assistance and utility bills.
  • Some $15 billion long-term, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. Severely impacted small businesses with fewer than 10 workers will be given priority for some of the money.

Republicans have criticized the size of the package as the U.S. vaccination pace picked up (the White House said over the weekend 2.1 million Americans were vaccinated in a day), Democrats said they needed decisive action to prevent a sluggish recovery and future economic pain.

Earlier in the process, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted saying a package that size isn’t needed because the economy was already on the road to a strong recovery.

“This isn’t a pandemic rescue package,” McConnell said Friday, according to CNN. “It’s a parade of left-wing pet projects that they are ramming through during a pandemic.”