WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to protect families, surge vaccine distribution, accelerate economic recovery, and help schools and businesses safely reopen, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) scored another major win for Rhode Island this week, as the U.S. Senate continues working to advance the American Rescue Plan.

The bill will help combat COVID-19 and rescue the economy by boosting vaccine distribution; preventing millions of jobseekers from falling off an economic cliff by bolstering unemployment insurance; delivering direct economic relief checks to hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders; providing additional tools to help schools safely reopen; making health care more affordable and accessible for Americans; and delivering direct aid to state and local governments.

Senator Reed helped lead efforts to include a $350 billion state and local fund in the Senate bill and he estimates the state and local provision could provide up to $1.73 billion to Rhode Island state and local governments.

“This should offer a big boost to Rhode Island and help people in every community across the state.  Things are improving and more vaccines are being made available, but we’re not out of the woods yet.  Inaction and half-measures won’t cut it.  These federal resources will help save jobs, lives, and communities,” said Senator Reed.  “This bill provides critical resources for working families, jobseekers, Main Street, and communities nationwide.  States and communities will still have to make hard choices, but this cushions the financial blow and provides a needed dose of certainty and stability at a critical moment for our state and our economy.”

Reed declined to offer exact estimates for how much each community will receive at this point, stating that the final amount each city and town could receive depends on variables and final implementation by the U.S. Treasury Department which could take some time.  But Senator Reed says that he is confident that at the end of the day both the state, as well as communities across Rhode Island, are positioned to receive significant aid under the Senate-negotiated version of the bill.

“I’ve championed these funds for so long because no state, including Rhode Island, could ever have budgeted for this kind of pandemic.  States and localities have been forced to shoulder considerable and unexpected costs as they raced to save lives and livelihoods.  They should not be penalized for stepping up to help.  Instead, the federal government needs to step up and be a reliable partner.  This new federal funding will help provide an economic boost at a critical moment,” said Senator Reed.

A year of championing state and local aid for RI

When COVID-19 began spreading across the United States last March, the Trump Administration initially proposed $2.5 billion as its COVID-19 response.  Instead, Congress quickly passed an $8.3 billion COVID-19 package on March 5, 2020.  But other than some federal reimbursements, there was no dedicated pool of funding to help states like Rhode Island or communities nationwide prepare and plan for the public health and economic onslaught.

As the scope of the crisis became clearer, Congress passed a second, larger COVID-19 package on March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which included paid sick leave, extended unemployment insurance, food aid, and more.  But still no direct aid to state and local governments.

Two days later, Senator Reed was tapped to serve on a bipartisan, 20-member panel tasked with negotiating key elements of an emergency phase-three COVID-19 response package designed to help save lives and rescue the economy.  Republicans were proposing a $1 trillion package, and once again, no money for state and local governments.  But after working tirelessly with his colleagues on a bipartisan basis, Senator Reed helped create the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which included $150 billion in direct aid to states, including a minimum of $1.25 billion per state.  Reed, at times working with Senate leadership, including Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and at times negotiating over a variety of key issues with then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, hammered out an agreement.  The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on March 27 to approve the CARES Act, which topped $2 trillion.

Key compromises to keep state and local aid intact

In order to get this new state and local aid package into the American Rescue Plan, Senator Reed and other state and local proponents had to agree to some compromises.  Several Senate Democrats wanted to redirect some funding to cover broadband expansion, which is essential for things like rural communities, helping students to learn online and ensure people can access tele-health providers.  In the end, a compromise was reached to dedicate $10 billion “to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options.”  This should help give Rhode Island added flexibility to target the federal assistance to areas of greatest need.

“We’ve still got a long way to go.  Republicans are taking a purely partisan stance against stimulus checks, unemployment assistance, vaccines, and much more by opposing this bill.  The reality is this bill provides a huge, needed lift to all fifty states.  For the sake of public health and the health of our economy, people and communities need significant relief and a dose of stability now.  If America comes back stronger, that will be a win for everybody.  And we can always make adjustments down the line,” noted Reed.  “Nobody knows exactly what the future will bring.  But we can’t afford to repeat the Trump Administration’s mistakes and provide too little, too late.  We’re taking bold, decisive action now because Republicans failed to do it sooner.  This is the relief the American people and our economy need, and I will continue working hard to get it to them.”

Vote-a-rama underway and final passage is in sight

The U.S. Senate began a marathon voting process yesterday, sometimes referred to as a ‘vote-a-rama’ that allows for any Senator to file an amendment to the resolution and get a recorded vote if they seek one.  Senators filed more than 100 amendments and votes went all night and are continuing into the weekend.

The U.S. Senate voted 51-50 to proceed to the American Rescue Package, with Vice President Kamala Harris on hand to break the tie in the evenly divided U.S. Senate.  At the conclusion of the vote-a-rama, the U.S. Senate will vote on final passage, which also requires 51 votes, before sending the revised bill over to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The House is expected to adopt the Senate’s version bill and send it to President Biden to be signed into law.  Senator Reed says it is essential to enact the law before key COVID-19-relief programs expire in mid-March.