Jan 15, 2021
by Ed Lamb
Calling it his American Rescue Plan, President-Elect Joe Biden on Jan. 14, 2021, introduced a slew of proposed executive actions and legislative requests to provide individuals, businesses and government entities financial assistance as they continuing to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Direct aid to states and localities is once again omitted from the relief plan, but implementing several of Biden’s ideas would put money at the disposal of governors and local elected officials.
A request for members of Congress to immediately approve one-time payments of $1,400 to all Americans headlined reports on Biden’s plan. That would account for more than half of the projected $1.9 trillion price tag.
The president-elect also wants legislation to
- Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour,
- Reinstate, extend and increase maximum weekly payments for emergency paid leave due to COVID-19,
- Reimbursing government agencies for granting emergency paid leave, and
- Boosting support for unemployment insurance programs of all types.
News reports have uniformly omitted details of particular interest to public sector workers and the human resources professionals who serve them. Biden’s plan includes many ideas for keeping people employed in providing government services, distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines to civil servants, and reopening schools. Highlights follow.
Hiring and Retaining Public Sector Workers
In a bullet point labeled “Provide support for first responders and other essential workers,” the plan calls on Congress to “provide $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, and territorial governments to ensure that they are in a position to keep front line public workers on the job and paid, while also effectively distributing the vaccine, scaling testing, reopening schools, and maintaining other vital services.” First responders, public health workers and educators are specifically mentioned as being frontline workers.
Biden also asked employers to provide back hazard pay to frontline workers, and he made clear that funds should be made available to support COVID-19 mitigation efforts in federal, state, and local prisons, jails, and detention centers.
Other requests include
- $20 billion for public transit agencies to reduce the need for layoffs and make “transit systems more resilient [thereby] ensuring that communities of color maintain the access to opportunity that public transportation provides.”
- Funds to help tribal governments purchase personal protective equipment and ensure access to telemedicine services.
- Money to fund the work of 100,000 public health workers assigned to tasks such as vaccine outreach and contact tracing.
Bolstering COVID-19 Prevention, Vaccination and Treatment Efforts
Biden enters the White House wanting to increase the number and capabilities of Community Health Centers. Specific to combating the current pandemic, he is asking Congress to “invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, Tribes and territories.” He is also seeking $50 billion for “a massive expansion” of coronavirus testing for, among others, public school and local government personnel.
Here, the American Rescue Plan is worth quoting at length:
Provide $130 billion to help schools to safely reopen. … These funds can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces so students and teachers can socially distance; improve ventilation; hire more janitors and implement mitigation measures; provide personal protective equipment; ensure every school has access to a nurse; increase transportation capacity to facilitate social distancing on the bus; hire counselors to support students as they transition back to the classroom; close the digital divide that is exacerbating inequities during the pandemic; provide summer school or other support for students that will help make up lost learning time this year; create and expand community schools; and cover other costs needed to support safely reopening and support students.
Biden is also seeking $5 billion in targeted funds to support educational programs for early childhood, K-12 and college students who have been “significantly impacted by COVID-19.”