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House Passes $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Plan; Biden Calls For 'Quick Action' From Senate

The U.S. Capitol is seen behind a sign during a demonstration in support of COVID-19 relief, organized by Shutdown DC, on the National Mall.
Al Drago
Getty Images
The U.S. Capitol is seen behind a sign during a demonstration in support of COVID-19 relief, organized by Shutdown DC, on the National Mall.

Updated Sunday at 10:45 a.m. ET

House lawmakers on Friday approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, advancing the legislation to the Senate.

The vote came days after the United States surpassed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.

The proposal would provide a new round of financial support for workers, families and businesses, including direct payments of up to $1,400 for eligible individuals and couples; an expansion and extension of supplemental unemployment benefits; and an increase to the child tax credit.

Also in the bill is $25 billion for emergency rental assistance and an expanded tax credit for low-income workers without children.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House on Saturday, Biden thanked Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the bill's supporters for taking "the first step" toward making another round of pandemic relief reality. He said he now hopes for "quick action" from the Senate.

"If we act now decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus," Biden said. "We can finally get our economy moving again. ... The people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering."

The Senate will have just over two weeks to make changes to the bill before current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14. No Republicans in the Senate are expected to support the legislation, having balked at the price tag.

"We already know what is the best stimulus plan out there," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said at a press conference Friday. "It's to fully reopen our economy. To do that, we need our economy to go back to work, back to school and back to health."

While the budget reconciliation process enables Senate Democrats to approve the package without Republican backing, the Democratic caucus will need support from all 50 of its members to deliver on the Biden administration's first major legislative priority.

"I know some in Congress think we've already done enough to deal with the crisis in the country," Biden said when he announced the plan at the White House earlier this month. "That's not what I see. I see enormous pain in this country."

In addition to financial assistance for individuals and families, the bill would also direct relief to businesses. That includes $25 billion to the Small Business Administration for a new grant program that targets bars and restaurants and additional funding for a program that assists shuttered venues.

The package is also expected to set aside more than $128 billion in grants to help K-12 schools reopen and $39 billion for higher education institutions.

The bill included a provision that would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. But that's likely to be stripped out of the Senate version because on Thursday evening, the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian ruled that including this provision violated budgetary rules. While the ruling disappointed some progressives, the decision spared Democrats in the Senate from internal conflict over whether a $15 minimum wage is too high.

Biden said he was also disappointed but respected the parliamentarian's decision.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Chloee Weiner