For Rep. Josh Gottheimer, perseverance paid off as the coronavirus stimulus bill he had been at the forefront of fighting for was finally passed by both houses of Congress.
The $900 billion bill approved by members of the Senate and House of Representatives Dec. 21 includes $600 direct payments to individuals and families, enhanced unemployment benefits, small business aid, and funding for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“With our bipartisan, bicameral agreement as its foundation, (Congress) has now passed emergency pandemic relief—finally delivering critical lifelines for our families, businesses, and communities,” said Gottheimer in a press statement Dec. 21.
The measure, part of a $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that included $1.4 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2021, passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan majorities: 359-53 in the House and 91-7 in the Senate.
The COVID-19 emergency relief package closely mirrors the bipartisan, bicameral proposal introduced last week by the Problem Solvers Caucus, which Gottheimer co-chairs, and a group of Senators led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV.)
Particulars of the COVID-19 relief bill include:
- $300 per week for enhanced Unemployment Insurance;
- $600 direct stimulus checks per individual, including children;
- $325 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and small business support;
- $12 billion for CDFI/MDI community lender support;
- $45 billion in aid for the transportation industry;
- Support for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing;
- Support for healthcare providers and workers;
- $82 billion in educational funding;
- $25 billion for rental assistance and eviction moratorium;
- $26 billion for nutrition and agricultural programs;
- $10 billion for child care;
- $7 billion dedicated to broadband funding;
- $4.3 billion for mental health and opioid treatment; and
- Year-long extension of Coronavirus Relief Fund use by state and localities
With the passage of the bill, Gottheimer proclaimed the deal as a template of how Washington can pass legislation that helps Americans.
Breaking the Impasse
“Months ago, the Problem Solvers Caucus and a group of Senators from both sides of the aisle began meeting with one goal in mind: breaking through the biggest impasse in recent history in Congress,” said the North Jersey Congressman. “Coming together, understanding that we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good, and that the American people should always come before partisan politics.”
“This is about actually governing. It is not the one that gets you clicks, but it is how you get a bill done.”
New Jersey House congressional members, including Reps. Bill Pascrell, Donald M. Payne, Jr., and Mikie Sherrill, all voted for the measure.
“I was proud to vote for this bill to help struggling residents of New Jersey as well as Americans nationwide deal with the effects of this coronavirus,” said Payne, Jr. “We needed to pass something before the end of the year because people are suffering this Winter and thousands were at risk of losing their housing.”
Boost the Economy
Sherrill said the legislation will deliver urgently needed relief over the next few months to “get North Jersey residents so we can get to the other side of this crisis.”
“It ensures that families can stay in their homes and unemployed workers will continue to receive additional support,” stated the Congresswoman. “It provides a second round of PPP, funding for vaccine distribution, and direct cash payments.”
Sen. Bob Menendez said the bill will provide a much-needed infusion into the economy, especially for those on the brink of disaster as federal benefits and protections were set to expire.
More Work to Do
But both state and federal politicians expressed more aid was still needed, particularly since monies for state and local municipalities was removed from the bill due to the inability of Republicans and Democrats in Washington to find common ground on the subject.
“We must secure additional state and local funding needed to support our first responders, educators, essential workers, and critical programs,” said Sen. Cory Booker. “We also must do more to…help families struggling during this economic crisis with more robust direct cash payments.”
Before passage, Gov. Phil Murphy stated “count me as grateful for this agreement, but do not count me as satisfied with it.”
State and Local Aid
“I have long said that we are facing $3 trillion to $4 trillion moment, and that history will judge us harshly if we undershoot this moment,” said Murphy. “Our communities and our fellow states need direct support. This is no time for half measures and we cannot keep finding ourselves back at the beginning once each round of support dries up before the pandemic is tamed.”
Rep. Pascrell bluntly added “Our cities and towns are being bled into bankruptcy. The next Congress has no choice but to pass state and local government assistance on a grand scale. If we do not, I fear our communities will take decades to recover.”
“It is unconscionable it took this long,” he continued. “The bill we passed offers a fraction of the relief our nation needs and that the House passed 219 days ago. Today’s package is not enough by a long shot.”
The deal does not include enough relief for the hard-hit restaurant industry and fails to provide any help for student loan borrowers, according to Menendez. Its an area the Senator believes must be addressed when President-elect Joe Biden take office
“We have given the incoming Administration a strong foundation to help families and businesses in New Jersey and across the country,” said New Jersey’s senior senator. “I look forward to working with the new Administration starting next year to help hard working families, small businesses and frontline workers recover from this unprecedented crisis.”
President-elect Biden has insisted that this bill is only the beginning, and that more relief, especially to state and local governments, will be coming after his inauguration.