U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush (D-1st) and Robin Kelly (D-2nd) are touting the newly enacted American Rescue Plan's measures, both the well-known ones passed to fight the coronavirus and the recession as well as ones included that reflect their longtime policy priorities.
As reported by The Associated Press, unemployment benefits will come in at an extra $300 a week through Sept. 6 from the federal government, with the first $10,200 non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000.
The federal government will pay for everyone's health insurance premiums under COBRA if employers are laid off from their jobs. People earning $75,000 or below are getting $1,400 payments — Kelly, who represents most of East Hyde Park in Congress, said in an interview that, with the $600 direct payments that came from December's stimulus, the number equals the $2,000 "we originally wanted to give all at once" — and $1,400 per dependent, with funds cutting off at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples.
Out of the hundreds of billions of dollars going to state and local governments, Illinois is getting $7.5 billion. Kelly said Chicago is getting $1.9 billion, and Cook County is getting $1 billion.
"This money will help ensure that governments can continue to pay their workers and provide essential services to constituents and help replenish revenues that were lost because there was no sales tax, because restaurants were closed and that kind of thing," she said.
Out of the $130 billion going to K-12 schools, $1.8 billion is going to Chicago Public Schools, Chalkbeat reports, or $5,200 per student. The district told Chalkbeat that plans are to use the money to address the social-emotional and traumatic impacts of the pandemic on students as well as costs toward student and staff testing and cleaning.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which has already been funded by the last two rounds of federal stimulus, is being funded again with $7.25 billion — a significant decrease, the AP reports. A new program for bars and restaurants, funded with $28.6 billion to the Small Business Administration, will give those business grants of up to millions of dollars for payroll, rent and other operating expenses; Kelly characterized it as "targeted relief."
The cost of Affordable Care Act premiums will go down because the government will pay more, and more households will qualify, though only through the end of 2022.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is now available to those without children. Meanwhile, the federal tax break for children will go up $1,000 for a year to $3,000 for each child aged 6 to 17 and to $3,600 for every child under 6.
"When you do your taxes and you have a $3,000 tax credit per child, that's more money in your pocket," Kelly said. Between that money and the direct payments, experts are projecting that the American Rescue Act will dramatically cut child poverty in the United States.
Kelly's longstanding advocacy for new mothers is also represented in the legislation, in allowing states to expand Medicaid benefits for up to one year postpartum, up from 60 days.
"Seventy percent of women have some issue after two months, so this will actually save lives, especially for women of color, who are three to four times more likely to have a problem or to die," she said. "In Illinois, it's even higher."
Thirty-nine billion dollars is going to child care by way of an emergency fund for providers and a block grant program to subsidize costs for low-income families.
Rush, in a press release, said that 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity, representing half of the Americans currently experiencing hunger. He said the legislation authorizes Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to increase the value of Cash Value Voucher in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, up to $35 per month for four months and pays $5 billion more into the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program, which assists low-income children and families with school meal and food assistance. Kelly said there is $25 million through 2026 for state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online pilots.
Thirty billion dollars is included in the legislation for low-income rent and homeless assistance, and homeowners will have access to billions of dollars being provided to states for mortgage assistance.
At a Friday press conference in Bronzeville, Rush praised the direct payments, back-to-school efforts and vaccine money in the relief package.
In the statement, he touted his work on the Committee on Energy and Commerce to get safety-net hospitals, including those within Cook County Health, funding with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. He also noted that $4.5 billion in home energy assistance grants through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program passed the Committee on Energy and Commerce on Feb. 12 and was included in the legislation.
“Historically, LIHEAP has supported millions of Americans in remaining safe and healthy in their homes in the face of adversity,” Rush said. “The ongoing pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of people within our communities — some of whom may be falling on hard times for the first time.
“By delivering $4.5 billion dollars in home energy assistance relief to the American people, we will allow folks to make their way through these difficult times without having to choose between food and keeping their electricity on.”
Locally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle praised the passage of the relief package along almost entirely partisan lines (no Republican voted for it; only one Democrat voted against it). Democratic state officials likewise applauded the final passage of billions of dollars in aid to cash-strapped state and local governments.
The current fiscal year’s state budget, which lawmakers passed in May, was based on the assumption that Congress would pass a relief package for state and local governments and that Illinois voters in November would approve Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed constitutional amendment to allow for a graduated income tax.
But the tax amendment failed at the polls, and congressional Republicans, who held a majority in the U.S. Senate until the 2020 elections, firmly opposed providing fiscal aid to state and local governments. Those factors combined put the state’s budget out of balance by roughly $4.9 billion.
The state has since closed that gap, in part by borrowing $2 billion from the Federal Reserve in December and in part because last year’s tax filing deadline was pushed back from April 15 to July 15. But the state’s economy has also recovered faster than expected and on Tuesday, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability revised its estimate of base revenues upward by nearly $2.9 billion, enough to close what had been a projected deficit.
Lawmakers from both parties told officials from Pritzker’s administration last week that the General Assembly should have some say in how the state spends its $7.5 billion in federal funds.
Kelly said the stimulus spending is obviously necessary and looks forward to work on an infrastructure bill, which she said stands a chance to see both collaboration between the parties. But she said it is is disappointing that not one Republican voted for the relief package, though she noted that Republicans will take the money.
“While no legislation is perfect, the American Rescue Plan represents the bold action Congress must take to alleviate the health and economic crises facing Americans,” Rush said in his statement. “Without the kind of robust stimulus provided by the American Rescue Plan, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that it could take four years for America’s economy to recover. The danger is not that Congress will do too much to help the American people recover, but too little. I look forward to continuing my work in Congress to ensure that a rapid and equitable recovery takes place.”
Said Kelly, "I hope that people realize who voted, and that congressional Republicans did not listen to the people. Because Republican governors wanted this. Republican mayors wanted this. Republican county chairs wanted this. It wasn't only Democrats. A lot of people are hurting across the United States, and they needed this help. And it was the Democrats who delivered it."
Capitol News Illinois reporter Peter Hancock contributed from Springfield. CNI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.