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The Covid-19 stimulus bill, explained in 600 words

Here’s what the bill tries to do — and what’s actually in it.

Harris, Biden, and Schumer, all wearing masks and dark suits, sit in an ornately furnished room, talking, with documents in front of them.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Senate on Saturday passed what will be the first big bill of President Joe Biden’s term: a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package. The bill now goes to the House, which is likely to okay it and send it to Biden’s desk.

The first thing that’s notable about the bill is how absolutely massive it is. At $1.9 trillion, the cost comes in at roughly double the stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed into law during the Great Recession in 2009. And that’s after Congress separately approved $2.2 trillion and $900 billion relief bills last year. This all adds up to a huge, unprecedented undertaking to shore up the economy.

According to some analyses, the latest relief bill could actually put the economy in even stronger shape than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic, at least temporarily. The Brookings Institution projected the impact of the legislation (as proposed by Biden, so there are some differences with the congressional bill) compared to no additional support, summarizing its findings in this chart:

A chart showing the impact of President Joe Biden’s proposed stimulus package. Brookings Institution

The bill accomplishes this through diverse policies — simultaneously combating the pandemic, stimulating the economy and filling the hole left in it by Covid-19, and providing broader economic relief to Americans.

Here are the major items likely to make it in the bill:

  • $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans: The full checks will go to individuals making up to $75,000 a year and couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 a year, including adult dependents for the first time. But the phaseout beyond those limits will be quicker than the previous $600 checks.
  • A continued $300-a-week boost to unemployment insurance: Those getting jobless benefits will continue to get an extra $300 through September 6, and the first $10,200 in benefits won’t be taxable, retroactively, for households with incomes under $150,000. The increase in benefits was set to expire on March 14 otherwise.
  • A boost to the child tax credit and other tax credits: The child tax credit will go up to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children up to 17, and more people will fully qualify. Other tax credits, like the child and dependent care tax credit and earned income tax credit, get boosts too.
  • Funding for K-12 schools and higher education: About $170 billion is geared toward helping schools reopen, while also providing relief to students and trying to address concerns over “learning loss” as schools shut down in the last year.
  • Improved access to health care: The bill includes a boost to individual marketplace tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), additional incentives for states to expand Medicaid, and extra subsidies for COBRA, which continues health coverage for people who recently lost their jobs.
  • Public health efforts against Covid-19: With tens of billions in new funding, the legislation supports coronavirus testing and contact tracing, vaccines, and increasing the size of the public health workforce.
  • Relief for state, local, and tribal governments: After a year in which some jurisdictions saw tax revenues drop and budgets tighten, the relief package will provide $350 billion to help them.

One thing that won’t make it in: a $15 minimum wage hike. The Senate parliamentarian ruled the hike is not allowed under the reconciliation process Congress is using to pass the bill. And even if the hike survived the rules, Senate moderates Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — crucial swing votes — opposed and voted against the idea.

Still, the remaining measures in the bill — adding up to that whopping $1.9 trillion cost — will certainly boost the economy and anti-Covid-19 efforts as the pandemic (hopefully) reaches an end. It’s a truly wide-ranging effort to help Americans as quickly as possible after a year marked by so much suffering.

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