As Congress Advances COVID-19 Relief Bill, Reed Continues Working to Prioritize RI’s Needs
WASHINGTON, DC -- The COVID-19 pandemic and economic disruption has wreaked havoc on families, businesses, health systems, and our economy.
As Rhode Island has grappled with over 125,000 COVID-19 cases, the state has seen unemployment and business closures rise and public health costs skyrocket, while many people have seen their paychecks and income levels shrink as they seek to stay safe and help protect their loved ones.
To alleviate financial hardship on Rhode Islanders and help the economy recover, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has helped pass a series of COVID-19 relief measures. Senator Reed was a lead architect of the state and local aid package in the CARES Act that directed $1.25 billion to the state. Due in part to Reed’s leadership, Rhode Island has received a total of $8.8 billion in federal COVID-19 funding over the last year to help Rhode Island families, businesses, non-profits, hospitals, schools, and state and local governments address the impacts of the pandemic. These federal funds have helped save lives through COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines, and provided economic relief and helped save jobs through direct impact payments, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and enhanced unemployment insurance (UI) assistance, as well as other key initiatives.
According to an analysis by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Rhode Island has received the fourth most federal COVID-19 assistance of any state per capita, at about $8,338 per person. Rhode Island trails only New York ($9,059), Vermont ($8,728), and Massachusetts ($8,436).
While this federal funding has provided a critical lifeline for families and businesses, it has not come close to reversing or replacing all of the economic losses Rhode Islanders, the state, and communities have suffered. Senator Reed says large-scale, targeted federal funds are urgently needed to swiftly address the health, safety, and economic impacts of COVID-19.
“We’re seeing some positive trends in terms of getting the virus back under control. But we’re not out of the woods yet. This pandemic continues to take thousands of lives each day, troublesome new strains of the virus are cropping up, and we still have a long way to go to get everyone vaccinated. Now is the time to speed assistance to save lives, protect public health, and get the economy working again. These funds will expand testing and vaccine availability, help safely reopen schools, and set the table for stronger, more sustainable economic growth,” said Senator Reed.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee this week, and noted: “the economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain.” And 170 of the nation’s top CEOs and business leaders sent a letter in support of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, writing: “Previous federal relief measures have been essential, but more must be done to put the country on a trajectory for a strong, durable recovery.”
To help provide targeted COVID-19 relief and ensure Rhode Island gets its fair share of federal support, Senator Reed has worked with his colleagues in Congress to support and advance the American Rescue Plan. The proposal features, among other things, federal aid to state and local governments, $1,400 direct payments to most Rhode Island households, and extended unemployment benefits through the summer. And Senator Reed says it could result in billions of dollars in direct aid for Rhode Islanders, the state, and local cities and towns to help cover costs associated with the pandemic.
Key provisions in the American Rescue Plan include:
Direct Payments to Households: $1,400 per tax filer ($2,800 for couples) and $1,400 per eligible dependent. The payments would start phasing out at an individual income of $75,000, with eligibility based on 2019 or 2020 tax returns. The first two rounds of direct economic impact payments (‘stimulus checks’) to eligible Rhode Islanders from the CARES Act ($1,200) and the ‘Coronabus’ ($600) netted Ocean State residents about $909 million total.
State & Local Aid: $350 billion state and local aid package that will likely be broken up into to two key categories: $195.3 billion directed to state governments, with $169 billion distributed based on a state’s share of total unemployed workers, with another $25.5 billion evenly divided among all states.
Pandemic-related Unemployment Insurance Provisions: The proposal calls for a needed boost to pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs. Including a $400-per-week federal add-on to state benefit checks; extended federal benefits for those who have exhausted state benefits; and an extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to help cover those jobseekers previously ineligible.
Aid to Help Safely Reopen K-12 Schools & Colleges: Nearly $130 billion would be dedicated to helping K-12 schools safely reopen and address lost time in the classroom, as well as $40 billion for higher education students and colleges and universities, along with $39 billion to boost child care through the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program (CCDBG). This federal funding would help child care providers and deliver financial relief for working parents. It also has $1 billion for the Head Start program to ensure families in need may access quality early learning opportunities. Additionally, Senator Reed is working to include $200 million for the Library Stabilization Fund Act, which would help support public libraries and ensure they can safely provide much needed services during the pandemic. Reed’s language would ensure Rhode Island public libraries would receive a minimum of $2 million.
Child Tax Credit Expansion: Increases the basic amount of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and provides an additional $600 for children under age 6, with those additional amounts phasing down above incomes of $112,500 for single parents and $150,000 for couples.
COVID-19 Testing & Vaccine Funding: The bill would provide $48.5 billion for increased detection, diagnosis, and monitoring of coronavirus infections and money for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for genomic sequencing and disease surveillance. It would also invest over $14 billion to accelerate the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide and other critical health needs. The federal funds will support the development of community vaccination centers, as well as new mobile vaccination units that can help serve homebound and hard-to-reach people and communities. It also includes additional funds for public health departments to hire 100,000 public health workers whose duties will include vaccine outreach.
Housing and Transportation Assistance: The bill includes Senator Reed’s $10 billion Homeowner Assistance Fund initiative and could deliver over $200 million in rent relief, mortgage relief, and homelessness prevention funding for Rhode Island. And notably, Senator Reed, the leading Congressional champion of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help struggling families afford their utility bills, helped include $4.5 billion in the draft rescue bill to ensure families can cover the costs of home heating and cooling.
And in terms of transportation dollars, Reed is working to include additional federal relief for RIPTA, which, when combined with other federal assistance, would help the transit agency keep essential service running amidst a historic downturn due to the pandemic. He also helped carve out additional funds to ensure T.F. Green and other local airports can continue providing service for travelers.
The House approved its version of the bill this morning and the U.S. Senate is set to take up a similar measure this coming week.
Senator Reed says he hopes the Senate will act quickly and that Congress can finalize a package and send it to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law by mid-March, before key pandemic relief programs expire and cause further economic disruption for jobseekers, businesses, and communities.