By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
A Senate impeachment trial, the aftermath of a deadly insurrection, racial tension boiling, and a myriad of foreign policy and other issues are among the many challenges facing President Joe Biden’s administration.
Perhaps the biggest – or at least of most immediate concern – is the coronavirus pandemic, which many maintain former President Donald Trump mostly (and dangerously) ignored.
The underlining challenge of the pandemic is health care. A challenge which only heightens when one considers that Trump spent the last four years weakening and attempting to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which protects health care for tens of millions of Americans.
President Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, which he titled “American Rescue Plan.”
The plan includes direct payments in the form of $1,400 stimulus checks, to struggling Americans, increased federal unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week through the end of September, and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The President also proposed a new $15 billion grant program for struggling small business owners, separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program, along with a $35 billion investment in local financing programs that provide businesses with low-interest loans.
He stated that the package would provide additional support for American workers and families until the COVID-19 vaccine is more widely available.
“A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there is no time to wait; we have to act now,” the new President said.
“In this moment of crisis, we cannot afford inaction. These investments in jobs will prevent long-term economic damage, and the benefits will far surpass the cost.”
President Biden’s overall plan also calls for the restoration of emergency paid sick leave, $350 billion in aid for state and local governments, and $170 billion to assist K-12 schools and higher education.
Additionally, the plan includes extending eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until the end of September, with $5 billion pledged to help tenants struggling to pay rent.
The ambitious plan contains $50 billion for coronavirus testing, $20 billion toward a national vaccine program. What’s more, the President seeks to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent through September and raise the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child – and $3,600 for children under 6. President Biden said he desires to make the Child Tax Credit refundable for the year.
Because of Trump’s assault on the Affordable Care Act – and health care in general, the percentage of uninsured Americans rose dramatically in the three years since President Barack Obama left office.
In November, the Supreme Court heard arguments by Republican attorneys general and the Trump administration, seeking to repeal Obama’s signature legislation.
President Biden’s team estimates that roughly two to three million people lost employer-sponsored health insurance between March and September of 2020.
The President said even families who have maintained coverage might struggle to pay premiums and afford care.
Further, going into the pandemic, 30 million people were without coverage, limiting their access to the health care system in the middle of a pandemic.
To ensure access to health coverage, President Biden has called on Congress to subsidize continuation health coverage (COBRA) through the end of September.
He is also asking Congress to expand and increase the Premium Tax Credit’s value.
President Biden said he wants to lower health insurance premiums for most Americans and potentially eliminate them altogether for the poor, ensuring enrollees in government-sponsored health care exchanges (including those who never had coverage through their jobs), will not pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for coverage.
“During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck,” President Biden said.
“The very health of our nation is at stake.”
In acknowledging the toll the pandemic and racism have taken on Black America, the President also seeks to address racial disparities.
He promised to increase funding for community health centers.
With America’s jails and prisons disproportionately populated by African Americans, President Biden added that he wants to financially support efforts to help mitigate the impact the virus has had behind bars.
He addressed the growing hunger crisis that also primarily affects minority communities.
“More than one in five Black and Latino households in America report that they do not have enough food to eat,” the President remarked. “It’s wrong. It’s tragic. It’s unacceptable.”