U.S. prepares to send checks, but big stimulus challenges loom

WASHINGTON – Congress is set to give the final green light to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package Wednesday, setting in motion a Washington-wide effort to administer one of the largest economic relief packages in U.S. history.

Over the coming weeks, the Biden administration may send another round of one-time checks to millions of families, rethink vast portions of the U.S. tax code and dole out sums to help cash-strapped Americans, seeking to swiftly blunt an economic crisis that has left millions without jobs and falling further behind financially.

Biden and his aides have promised that a large number of Americans could receive their $1,400 stimulus payments before the end of March. But some of the other ambitious elements of the soon-to-be law – including new child tax support, aid to local governments and money to help families pay rent – could take much longer to disburse. The sheer volume of new programs threatens to swamp federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, leaving some lawmakers fearful about early delays.

Congressional aid packages that became law over the past year have proved instrumental in helping the country rebound from one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. But the federal bureaucracy at times has strained to deliver some of that support in a tight time frame. Few Americans have benefited so far from the $25 billion in rental and utility assistance that lawmakers approved in December, housing experts said, and other programs to help workers and businesses pay their bills have not yet fully come online.

“Implementation is the ballgame. You can have the best priorities in the world, whether it’s the well-being of children [or] the needs of those who have been laid off of no fault of their own,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot if you can’t get the benefits out so people can make ends meet.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The challenges ahead reflect the high stakes facing Biden as he prepares to sign his first major legislative accomplishment into law this week. The president’s economic agenda and political legacy – and the trajectory of the country’s recovery from the pandemic – will depend on the ability of the federal government to get the next few months right.

Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion package marks the sixth major stimulus adopted by Congress since the coronavirus arrived in the United States last year. Democrats this week have hailed it as the largest anti-poverty measure in a generation, and top White House officials in recent days have fanned out to tout its potential – and the party’s early efforts to meet its 2020 campaign promises to deliver economic relief.

The president on Tuesday toured a local hardware store that had benefited from a loan under a prior stimulus initiative, the nearly $1 trillion Paycheck Protection Program, adopted last year. Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, later said at a White House briefing that the administration’s efforts alone had helped almost 200,000 first-time borrowers obtain loans. He said the new stimulus would serve as a “big step” toward recovering some of the roughly 10 million jobs still lost as a result of the pandemic.

“We promised to send people back to work by helping to revive and supercharge the economy – mission accomplished,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., heralding the stimulus on Capitol Hill for delivering on commitments made to voters last year to provide swift, robust relief. “We promised to help small businesses – mission accomplished.”

Republicans criticized the bill, days after every GOP senator voted against the measure this weekend. Many noted that significant sums from past stimulus measures remain unspent, making the new injection of federal aid set to be authorized by the House on Wednesday morning unnecessary in their eyes.

“We can’t just keep borrowing money; that’s why we wanted a narrower approach to covid relief, including using the existing hundreds of billions of dollars that haven’t been spent before you go borrow money that do things that have nothing to do with covid,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House minority whip.

But the extent of the help – and the speed at which it reaches Americans – may depend on the critical months ahead.

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Source: News Times