Jamie is a teacher, but she’s so much more: As a caregiver for both her parents and her kids, she lives a busy lifestyle. When she’s not teaching, she’s supporting her children’s online schooling or helping her elderly parents, which leaves her with many expenses and little free time. Hit by the effects of COVID-19, she needs a financial boost to help her afford rent, utilities, and food for her family.
Chris is a small restaurant owner, but potentially not for much longer. With the fiscal challenges that have resulted from COVID, he’s struggling to keep his restaurant open for business. To avoid losing his restaurant quickly and permanently, he needs financial support 一 and soon.
While Jamie and Chris are far from the only ones, they’re both examples of American people struggling financially due to the pandemic. They both need a little extra money to support themselves, their work, and their families.
And the American Rescue Plan, a law signed by President Biden on March 11, will help. It’ll provide Jamie with four stimulus checks totaling $5,600, an additional $3,000 in Child Tax Credits, and the safe reopening of schools, which will take some responsibility off of her hands. The Act will also support Chris, a married man, with two stimulus checks totaling $2,800 and access to a new grant program for restaurants.
But what is the American Rescue Plan exactly, and how can it help North Carolinian families?
What the American Rescue Plan Is
The basic purpose of the American Rescue Plan Act is to improve the nation’s economy after the hard financial hits COVID-19 caused, and to fight against social inequities that maintain oppression against people in marginalized groups. It’s a $1.9 trillion law, which is undoubtedly hefty 一 but it will help Americans in a variety of ways, from fiscal support to public health efforts to social justice-centered changes that are absolutely crucial.
What the American Rescue Plan Will Do
The anniversary of COVID hitting the U.S. just passed in March, and over 40 percent of Americans have been affected financially, whether through a pay cut or job loss. Unfortunately, these rates are even higher for racial minorities: 58 percent of Hispanic-Americans and 54 percent of Asian-Americans, for example, have been in financial distress. Many families have had to grasp at straws to stay afloat, and they have been for well over a year now.
But with the help of the American Rescue Plan’s fiscal support, they’ll likely struggle less. While the Act doesn’t include an increased minimum wage, it will help Americans and North Carolinians in several ways. In addition to the $1,400 stimulus check, this Act will help provide reliable childcare, housing and nutrition assistance, an extension on unemployment insurance and benefits, and more. In addition, the American Rescue Plan introduces an additional temporary fiscal incentive for 12 states to adopt the Affordable Care Act (ADA) Medicaid expansion, and North Carolina is one of those states. This means North Carolina could gain an additional $1.7 billion to expand Medicaid.
This is how those fiscal pieces break down:
- Reliable childcare:
- Expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to $4,000 per child or $8,000 for two or more children
- Makes the credit fully refundable
- Provides $39 billion for childcare, including $15 billion in state grants to help low-income families and essential workers
- $24 billion in state grants for childcare providers
- Housing assistance:
- $21.6 billion for emergency rental assistance
- $10 billion to help homeowners avoid foreclosure
- $5 billion for emergency public housing vouchers
- $5 billion to address homelessness
- Nutrition assistance:
- 15 percent increase in monthly benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through Sept. 30, 2021
- Unemployment benefits:
- Extends pandemic-related unemployment assistance, including the $300 supplement, through Sept. 6
- The first $10,200 received as unemployment benefits by taxpayers making under $150,000 a year won’t be federally taxed
The American Rescue Plan won’t give financial aid to only individuals, though; it will also support communities as a whole. The Act plans to help small businesses that are struggling 一 especially those owned by people of color. Additionally, it will protect the jobs of essential workers and first responders, who are clearly needed in abundance to stop COVID and to provide relief to those struggling with its effects.
Here’s how that will break down:
- Supporting small businesses and hard-hit industries:
- $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including an expansion on eligibility for additional nonprofits and digital news services
- Additional funds for the Shuttered Venue Operations Grant (SVOG) program
- Allows businesses to apply for a PPP loan and the SVOG
- $15 billion for Targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDL) payments, including new $5 billion Supplemental Targeted EIDL Advance payments for those most in need
- New $28.6 billion for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund for industry-based grants
- Protect jobs of essential workers and first responders:
- Protects their jobs through supplying vital resources. For example, low-wage essential workers and their families will receive an extra share of the relief from anti-poverty programs, such as the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, which will give a one-year income boost for cashiers, home health aides, cleaners, agriculture workers, and other people who earn low wages.
Simply put, the American Rescue Plan is big. It’s radical, but it will ignite necessary changes for Americans. Researchers at Columbia University estimate that this Act will cut child poverty by more than half. Here’s how it will do that:
- Expand the child tax credit through 2021
- Increase the maximum credit to $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for older children
- Make the credit fully refundable
Besides fixing the fiscal brunt of COVID, the American Rescue Plan will also work to get rid of COVID itself. The coronavirus has obviously been incredibly deadly; the disease has contributed to over 526,000 American deaths, in which over 12,000 have been from North Carolina.
The Act responds to these public health needs by preparing a national vaccination program to help people get vaccinated, expediting the reopening of schools, and supporting those who get or might have COVID. The law will also invest in quality treatments, address health disparities in which people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID, provide paid sick leave to help stop the spread of COVID, and more.
Those plans will break down like this:
- National vaccination program:
- $7.5 billion for vaccine distribution
- $5.2 billion for acquiring vaccines and supplies
- The reopening of schools:
- $125 billion for local educational authorities to be able to safely reopen K-12 public schools, address educational losses, and support students’ recovery
- $39.6 billion for colleges, universities and their students, in which at least half must go to emergency financial aid grants
- Support those who do or might have COVID:
- $48.3 billion for COVID testing, contract tracing, and personal protective equipment (PPE)
- $10 billion to expand the production of PPE, vaccines, and medical supplies domestically under the Defense Production Act
- Quality treatments:
- The Medicaid Drug Rebate Program must cover certain medicines used for COVID protection and treatment
- Reviews of devices used for the treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of COVID
- Addressing health disparities:
- Increased affordability and health insurance coverage will be accessible to historically uninsured communities, like minorities
- Provide paid sick leave:
- Extensions on tax credits through September 2021
- Expands eligibility to include both state and local governments
How the American Rescue Plan Will Affect North Carolinians
The American Rescue Plan will give North Carolina tens of billions in aid. According to Gov. Cooper’s press release, the funds will be used on state priorities such as broadband expansion, water and sewer infrastructure, struggling businesses, and education and workforce training.
“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, some of our most pressing needs to lift communities in rural and other areas can be covered by federal funds,” Gov. Cooper said in the press release.
Hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents will have greater economic security. Over 137,000 children in the state will no longer be in poverty. The increase in household income will help children have better educational, health-related, and developmental outcomes. Basically, we have a lot to look forward to.
Calls to Action
While the American Rescue Plan will help Americans on its own, North Carolinians can help support its mission and efforts in a variety of ways. You can support yourself and others by:
- Getting vaccinated. In North Carolina, everyone is eligible by April 7.
- Supporting small businesses by purchasing their foods, products, or services. For more information on businesses owned by people of color, check out the following resources that are a good starting point:
- Continuing to wear a mask and stay socially distant, even if you’ve gotten the vaccine.
- Holding Gov. Cooper accountable. You can contact his office through this website.
The Act will aid Americans in tremendous ways, but our continued support for its efforts is also vital.
Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied Public Relations in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. She’s passionate about mental health, body positivity, relationships, Halloween and Dad jokes.