WASHINGTON (AP) — Marking a year of loss and disruption, President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law the $1.9 trillion relief package that he said will help the U.S. defeat the coronavirus and nurse the economy back to health. Some checks to Americans could begin arriving this weekend.
The signing came hours before Biden delivers his first prime-time address since taking office. He’s aiming to steer the nation toward a hungered-for sentiment — hope — as he marks one year since the onset of the pandemic that has killed more than 529,000 Americans.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office.
Most noticeable to many Americans are provisions providing up to $1,400 direct payments this year to most people, some of which could begin landing in bank accounts this weekend, and extending $300 weekly emergency unemployment benefits into early September. Also included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave — some of them credits that Democrats have signaled they’d like to make permanent — plus spending for renters, feeding programs and people’s utility bills.
The House gave final congressional approval to the sweeping package by a near party line 220-211 vote on Wednesday, seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill. Republicans in both chambers opposed the legislation unanimously, characterizing it as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the crises are easing.
Biden originally planned to sign the bill on Friday, but it arrived at the White House more quickly than anticipated.
“We want to move as fast as possible,” tweeted White House chief of staff Ron Klain. He added, “We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with congressional leaders!”
Previewing his Thursday night remarks, Biden said he would “talk about what we’ve been through as a nation this past year, but more importantly, I’m going to talk about what comes next.”
Biden’s challenge will be to honor the sacrifices made by Americans over the past year while encouraging them to remain vigilant despite “virus fatigue” and growing impatience to resume normal activities given the tantalizing promise of vaccines. Speaking on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic, he’ll mourn the dead, but also project optimism about the future.
“This is a chance for him to really beam into everybody’s living rooms and to be both the mourner in chief and to explain how he’s leading the country out of this,” said presidential historian and Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley.
“This is a big moment,” Brinkley added. “He’s got to win over hearts and minds for people to stay masked and get vaccinated, but also recognize that after the last year, the federal government hasn’t forgotten you.”
Biden’s evening remarks in the East Room are central to a pivotal week for the president as he addresses the defining challenge of his term: shepherding the nation through the twin public health and economic storms brought about by the virus.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released initial guidance for how vaccinated people can resume some normal activities. On Wednesday, Congress approved the president’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” aimed at easing the economic impact of the virus on tens of millions of people. And the nation was on pace to administer its 100 millionth dose of vaccine as soon as Thursday.
Biden said he would focus his remarks on what his administration plans to deliver in the coming months, but also reiterate his call for Americans to continue to practice social distancing and wear face coverings to hasten the end of the pandemic.
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“I’m going to launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people,” he said.
He added: “There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year. There is real reason for hope.”