Money for colleges, libraries and clubs: 10 things you might not know are in Biden’s COVID-19 relief package
WASHINGTON – You’ve probably heard by now about the $1,400 relief checks, the $350 billion for state and local governments, the money for vaccines, and the boost in child tax credits.
These are among the most heralded components of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, which the Democratic-controlled House approved by a 220-211 vote on Wednesday, sending the relief package to Biden’s desk to become law.
But the legislation is loaded with other less-discussed spending, helping make it the federal government’s most robust infusion of aid to the poor and American workers in recent history.
Here are 10 components you might not know about, each set to happen now that the bill passed.
$28.6 billion for independent restaurants
After lobbying unsuccessfully to get their needs addressed in relief packages under former President Donald Trump, the restaurant industry will get a long-awaited $28.6 billion in the American Rescue Plan.
The bill creates a new grant program – modeled off the Restaurants Act that stalled last year in the Senate – offering direct debt-free aid to independent restaurants with 20 or fewer locations.
Grant amounts will be based on the difference in revenue lost as a result of the pandemic, which forced an estimated 110,000 bars and restaurants to close and 2.4 million lost jobs.
Restaurants have received assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, but restaurateurs say the program has been inadequate to meet the unique challenges of the industry.
$22 billion for rental assistance, billions more for other housing needs
The American Rescue Plan will send an additional $21.5 billion for emergency rental assistance to states and cities, adding to the $25 billion they received in December for the same purpose.
The money is meant for renters facing back payments to keep families in their homes. The bill also includes $10 billion to states and cities to help the estimated 3.3 million homeowners behind in mortgage payments or in foreclosure.
Addressing other housing needs, the bill allocates $5 billion for homelessness services; $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers; $100 million to support households living in federally subsidized rural housing; and $100 million in housing counseling to help homeowners and renters with debt challenges navigate their housing situations.
The American Rescue Plan will also provide $100 million to fair housing organizations that help renters and homeowners combat housing discrimination amid the pandemic.
$125 billion for public school reopenings
The legislation will send $125 billion to the nation’s K-12 public schools aimed at reopening schools for in-person learning and supporting students who suffered a loss of learning as a result of their schools closing during the pandemic.
Most of the money, $122.7 billion, will go to school districts – through their states – to pay for the implementation of health protocols inside school buildings. A quarter of the funding must be used on evidence-based interventions to address learning loss.
More than $3 billion is allocated for programs for disabled students while an additional $2.75 billion will go to states to support non-public schools that serve a large percentage of students from low-income families.
$40 billion for colleges, universities and students
In response to the pandemic’s significant hit to higher education, the bill provides $39.6 billion to colleges and universities – which have lost more than 650,000 employees during the pandemic – and college students themselves.
At least half the aid will go to emergency financial aid grants to students to pay for things like food, housing and health care.
The other half is earmarked for higher education institutions to cover lost revenue accrued during the pandemic as a result of increased costs and declining enrollment, COVID-19 testing on-campus, vaccinations, personal protective equipment and classroom retrofits.
$5 billion for Black, Hispanic and other minority farmers
The bill appropriates $10.4 billion for agricultural and food supply sectors, $5 billion of which will go to socially disadvantaged farmers of color. These include Black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian American farmers.
The breakdown, according to the Farm Bureau, includes $4 billion for direct payments to cover up to 120% of a farmer or rancher’s outstanding debt and $1 billion for outreach, training, education, technical assistance and grants.
Black farmers, who are concentrated in the South in states like Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi, have been historically discriminated against, losing an estimated 12 million acres of farmland since the 1950s.
The Washington Post reported the infusion for Black farmers would be the most significant since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
$1.25 billion for closed music clubs, event venues
Live music at clubs and concert halls came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit last year.
Biden’s relief package provides an additional $1.25 billion for the Shutterd Venues Operators Grant Program, which provides aid to live music and other event venues that have closed or scaled back operations.
The relief package passed in December provided $15 billion to this fund, but it wasn’t enough to ensure all affected venues received help.
Biden’s relief package will provide the first major expansion of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called “Obamacare,” since it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.
The bill increases premium support in ACA marketplaces, subsidizes COBRA coverage and provides incentives for the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid eligibility under the ACA.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the expansion adds up to $62 billion more for the health care law: $34.2 billion for the premium support; $15.2 billion in Medicaid incentives; $7.8 billion for COBRA assistance; and $4.5 billion in premium subsidies for people receiving unemployment insurance.
$500 million for rural health care
Biden’s package provides funds for rural health care efforts including increasing vaccine distribution, providing medical supplies, expanding medical surge capacity, increasing access to telehealth, and helping fill the gap for rural health care providers.
The Farm Bureau estimated the rural health care support at $500 million.
$470 million for libraries, arts and humanities
Biden’s package gives $200 million to the more than 17,000 public libraries – many of which were forced to close during the pandemic – through the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Funds are targeted for the safe reopening of libraries as well as boosting library resources – such as Wi-Fi, internet hotspots, education tools and workforce development opportunities – that are often used by marginalized individuals.
The bill also will pump $270 million into arts and cultural organizations – split evenly among the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities – for organizations such as museums that have suffered cuts during the pandemic.
Boost for SNAP food stamps and food supply chains
The bill extends through September the 15% increase in food stamp benefits though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
According to Senate Democrats, as many as 50 million Americans have struggled to feed themselves or their families during the pandemic.
The bill also provides $4 billion to support the food supply chain through the purchase and distribution of food, purchase of PPE equipment for farmers and frontline workers in the food industry and financial support for farmers, food processing companies and farmers markets.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison