The US Department of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that it is extending a free school-lunch program for every K-12 student through spring 2022.
“States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”
The emergency lunch waiver program is designed to reach children experiencing hunger and food insecurity. It was implemented early last year as coronavirus infections swept the country, triggering a massive wave of layoffs.
The USDA estimated nearly 12 million kids live in a household that didn’t have enough to eat at some point in the pandemic. The measure was renewed beyond its September 30 end date.
Federal reimbursement rates to schools were beefed up from $3.60 to $4.25 last year, The Washington Post reported. That step allowed schools to budget for bigger costs incurred due to pandemic-related supply shortages as well as obtain to-go boxes and bags.
The Biden administration provided $12 billion in nutritional assistance as part of its $1.9 trillion stimulus law approved last month. It included a 15% boost to food-stamp benefits among many other provisions.
As congressional Republicans blast President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill over a perceived lack of bipartisanship, three-in-four American voters support the bill, according to a new poll from Morning Consult and Politico.
The original “American Rescue Plan” COVID-19 relief bill passed in the House in late February in a tight 219-212 vote with zero Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. Later, following an all-night “vote-a-rama” in the Senate with discussions between both Republican and Democratic congressmen, the Senate ended in a 50-49 party-line vote with, again, zero Republicans voting for the bill, with Senate Republicans chastising the president and Democratic Party for a perceived lack of bipartisanship.
“Joe Biden gave an inauguration speech, we were all there, where he talked about unity and working together,” Sen. Ted Cruz said. “Where’s the unity and working together?”
But despite Biden’s presidential promises and the outcries of Conservative lawmakers, American voters appear to support the legislation in high numbers.
Conducted between March 6-8, the recent Morning Consult survey shows overwhelming support – 90% – among Democrats, 71% support with Independents, and even 59% with Republican voters.
After the recent vote-a-rama in the Senate, Republican legislators came out in droves against the “pork” provisions added to the bill, or the appropriation of certain funds toward specific districts that are unrelated to the main point of the legislation.
“This bill is not what you think,” Republican Rep. Byron Donalds wrote in a tweet. “Less than 10% of this bill is for COVID, and the rest is pork and bailouts.”
But Donalds and his peers are incorrect, according to a fact check from PolitiFact, as the nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that 85% of the bill’s funding goes directly toward COVD-19 relief projects. The group said that the remaining 15% of the bill “is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis.”
Despite the mistruths spread by congressional Republicans that the legislation is inflated, only a third of US citizens believe that the relief package is too costly, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center. The survey also noted that a quarter of Americans think the relief bill is actually spending too little money and should be increased.
As it currently stands, the American Rescue Plan bill will send $1,400 in stimulus checks to people earning less than $75,000 per year and couples earning less than $150,000 will receive $1,400 per person, including children. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that unlike Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, the stimulus checks will not include a signature from the president.
“This is not about him,” Psaki said. “It’s about the American people getting relief.”
The final draft of the relief package also includes expanded unemployment insurance benefits until September 6, $100 less than the original provision written in the House.
Biden and the Democrats attempted to increase the nation’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the wage increase could not be added to a reconciliation bill. Still, Sen. Bernie Sanders attempted to add an amendment to re-add the minimum wage increase to the legislation but was denied in a bipartisan 58-42 vote.
Members of the House are expected to vote to approve the package on Wednesday where unless changes are made to the bill once more, it will then move to Biden to sign into law.
For over a century, Black farmers faced discrimination from the US Department of Agriculture and were largely excluded from federal loans and farm improvement initiatives.
In an effort led by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed on Saturday includes a $5 billion provision that will forgive debts for Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other farmers of color, to enable reforms that will assist farmers with building generational wealth.
He said that Democrats sought to “ensure equity in our recovery efforts and address longstanding injustices that have left some communities behind for far too long” and pledged that the aid “will not only help farmers of color, but will also lift up the economies of our rural communities working to recover from the economic turndown,” according to Rolling Stone.
Due to systemic racism from both private lenders and government officials, many Black farmers did not have set deed structures that allowed for properties to be passed down in whole, which created fractional ownership setups.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, strongly backed the effort, lauding Warnock for “coming in and and working to embrace this and get it over the line right away,” according to Rolling Stone.
In 1910, 14% of farmers in the US were Black, compared to 2% today, something that Stabenow highlighted.
“When you look at one of the very first ways that there was racial discrimination after slavery was legally abolished, it was lack of support for black farmers,” she said, adding that they “were discriminated against in terms of land ownership.”
Last year, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced “The Justice for Black Farmers Act,” which would allow Black farmers to individually reclaim 160 acres through a system of land grants to address racial discrimination in federal agricultural policy.
“Overtly discriminatory and unjust federal policy has robbed Black families in the United States of the ability to build and pass on intergenerational wealth,” he said in a statement. “When it comes to farming and agriculture, we know that there is a direct connection between discriminatory policies within the USDA [US Department of Agriculture] and the enormous land loss we have seen among Black farmers over the past century.”
Booker reintroduced his bill last month with cosponsors Warnock, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
While Senators were anticipating a frenzied day on Friday as Democrats sought to push through their $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, a vote on a minimum wage amendment actually became the longest recorded Senate vote in modern history, according to The Hill.
The Senate commenced voting at 11:03 a.m. on Friday on a amendment offered by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to raise the minimum wage from the current $7.25 federal rate to $15.
The vote was officially closed at 10:53 p.m., meaning it was held open by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York for a record 11 hours and 50 minutes.
Previously, the record was held by a June 2019 vote on an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill by then-Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico that was held open for 10 hours and eight minutes.
The push for a $15 minimum wage previously caused a rift among the Democratic caucus, with moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed to the increase being included in the bill even before the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the provision couldn’t be added due to its noncompliance with budget reconciliation rules.
Under the reconciliation process, Democrats can pass the COVID-19 relief bill on a party-line vote with the aid of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
However, the extended open vote was attributed to the Democratic majority’s scramble to get votes for future amendments to the relief bill during the free-for-all “vote-a-rama” that consumed the Senate.
GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio offered an amendment that would have extended enhanced unemployment benefits until July 18, several weeks short of the August 29 extension that was passed in the House version of the bill.
When Manchin expressed interest in the amendment, it threatened the Democrats’ fragile 50-vote coalition.
As the day went on, GOP Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota met with Portman, with Manchin on the phone. Manchin also spoke with Schumer and President Joe Biden, himself of a 36-year veteran of Senate negotiations, to break the impasse.
Ultimately, Manchin forged a compromise with his Democratic colleagues, which extended the current $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits through September 6, while providing tax relief for the first $10,200 in jobless aid for households making less than $150,000.
“We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with [an] unexpected tax bill next year,” Manchin said in a statement.
The Senate eventually rejected the Sanders motion to re-add the minimum wage increase to the COVID-19 bill; it failed in a 42-58 vote.
While President Joe Biden faces firm opposition to his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package from congressional Republicans, many elected GOP officials outside of Washington DC are singing a different tune.
Roughly 32 GOP mayors, representing cities from Oklahoma City and Arlington, Texas to Carmel, Indiana and Mesa, Arizona, are among 425 mayors who backed the relief bill in a letter through the US Conference of Mayors to Congress.
“American cities and our essential workers have been serving at the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for nearly a year,” the mayors wrote. “Despite immense fiscal pressure, your local government partners oversaw those efforts, while trying to maintain essential services and increase our internal capacity to provide support for residents and businesses who have been crippled by a tanking economy.”
Congressional Republicans have blasted the price tag of Biden’s bill, deriding the local economic relief as a “blue state bailout” for Democratic cities and states.
GOP Rep. Trent Kelly of Mississippi echoed such a sentiment at a House committee meeting this week.
“What I see is a bailout for poorly-run (cities and states), not money that is earmarked for those who have discovered losses based on COVID,” he said.
Some Republicans have also argued that the economic forecasts for many localities were above expected projections, eliminating the need for increased federal funds.
During a CNN segment yesterday, GOP mayors David Holt of Oklahoma City and John Giles of Mesa defended the need for additional aid.
“I don’t know a city where revenues have gone up,” Holt said. “That is news to me and I think that is not true. Whether your mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, revenues are down.”
He added: “The idea that this is a red state/blue state or red city/blue city thing is really a myth. Everybody is down. Everybody needs some support to get their services back to the level that people expect.”
When asked if Mesa was a “poorly-run city,” Giles rejected such a characterization.
“I’m very proud of the way that we’ve administered the COVID relief that we received a year ago,” he said. “There are a lot of people in Mesa that received food and utility assistance. Our first responders were funded. We were able to get kids back into school, to help with our school districts to have the remote learning devices they needed.”
He emphasized: “I would invite any scrutiny that partisans would like to apply to the way that we’ve administered the funds that we’ve received thus far.”
After the relief bill passed the House in a near party-line 219-212 vote yesterday, the group praised the outcome as it heads to the Senate.
“The fiscal relief passed today will help close deep budget holes and enable cities to be an engine of our recovery,” they wrote. “But the job is not done. Mayors urge the Senate to now act quickly on this package and preserve the desperately needed resources for cities of all sizes.”
Earlier this month, a group of GOP senators led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine sought to reduce the size of the relief package to roughly $600 billion, but Democrats proceeded with their bill through the reconciliation process, which would allow them to pass the bill through party-line votes.
If all 50 Democrats back the relief bill on the Senate floor in the face of united GOP opposition, then Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote will assure its passage.
Holt, for his part, said that he was singularly focused on the well-being of his city.
“I’m a one-issue voter,” he told USA Today. “If it’s good for cities, and especially for Oklahoma City, I’m going to be supportive. The $350 billion for cities and states is a no-brainer to me, regardless of your political party.”
Following Wednesday’s violence on Capitol Hill, Goldman Sachs asked small-business owners not to wear “Storm the Hill” T-shirts it had mailed them for an unrelated event, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Goldman is sponsoring a virtual event, planned for January 13, to encourage small-business owners to pressure lawmakers to pass additional COVID-19 relief for businesses.
But the bank rebranded the event after pro-Trump rioters literally stormed the hill on Wednesday following encouragement by the president, temporarily seizing the US Capitol building and forcing lawmakers to evacuate.
Goldman has lobbied for relief measures for business owners including rent and child care, tax breaks on emergency loans, and legal immunity if their workers get sick.
Goldman Sachs has called on thousands of small-business owners to virtually take to the US Capitol to demand more economic relief during the pandemic.
But the bank was forced to abandon the rallying cry it had chosen – “Storm the Hill” – after violent pro-Trump rioters literally stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to protest the presidential election results, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The virtual event is part of the Goldman-sponsored 10,000 Small Business Voices initiative, through which the bank is encouraging business owners to lobby Congress for a handful of COVID-19 relief programs aimed specifically at the business community.
Goldman had mailed out swag to participants, including t-shirts with the slogan “Storm the Hill,” but the bank determined that the optics of that phrasing would in poor taste and told participants not to wear them during the January 13 event, the Journal reported.
“We chose the slogan to represent our enthusiasm to take part in a democratic process to advocate for small business,” the bank wrote to participants, according to the Journal, adding: “If you have other 10,000 Small Businesses apparel, we would encourage you to wear it.”
Goldman CEO David Solomon has denounced Wednesday’s violence.
“For years, our democracy has built a reservoir of goodwill around the world that brings important benefits for our citizens,” Solomon told CNBC in a statement, adding: “Recently, we have squandered that goodwill at a rapid pace, and today’s attack on the U.S. Capitol does further damage. It’s time for all Americans to come together and move forward with a peaceful transition of power.”
Goldman, through the upcoming event – which it has since renamed “Virtual Capitol Hill Day” – and elsewhere, has lobbied for a variety of economic stimulus programs aimed at business owners, ranging from lower health care costs to tax breaks on loans to legal immunity if employees contract the virus after being asked to return to work.
On Christmas Eve, President Donald Trump planned to sign the $2.3 trillion COVID-19 relief and government funding bill into law, which would assuage a nation battered by the pandemic that more economic help was on the way.
However, when the bill arrived at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for his signature, he “changed his mind” and rebuffed a plan to sign the bill during an evening ceremony in one of the resort’s ballrooms, according to CNN.
According to the report, a desk and chair were prepared on Christmas Eve for Trump to sign the bill, along with his customary pens, but as the 7 p.m. signing time approached, aides were told that he would not be signing the bill that night.
While Trump on Sunday eventually signed the bill, which he previously slammed as a disgrace largely because it included $600 stimulus checks instead of his proclaimed preference for $2,000 checks, he missed the Saturday evening deadline for continuing the federal unemployment supplemental benefits – the delay will cost already-struggling Americans a week of $300 unemployment benefits.
The critical $300 federal lifeline may now only last for 10 weeks instead of the 11 weeks that was sought when the compromise package was forged.
On December 22, Trump said that he wouldn’t sign the coronavirus relief legislation into law unless the stimulus payments were increased, which he did not disclose during the difficult negotiation process between Congressional leaders that resulted in the bipartisan rescue package this month.
That day, Trump also slammed part of the $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations bill, which appropriated funding for federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year and was merged with the $900 billion stimulus package.
“It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” the President said at the time, seemingly conflating the spending bill and the relief package.
On December 31, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, was set to expire but has now been extended with the new relief package. The CARES Act, which passed in March, extended traditional unemployment benefits from the standard 26 weeks to 39 weeks. The new package extends PEUC by providing 24 weeks of additional unemployment benefits, raising the cap from 39 weeks to 50 weeks.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the voting process on the legislation containing the COVID-19 stimulus bill as “hostage-taking” after representatives were given only a few hours to read 5,593 pages of text.
Congress on Monday passed a $1.4 trillion government spending bill includes as a subsection a package of $908 billion in COVID-19 economic stimulus, agreed after months of tense negotiation.
The final text of the legislation was released only on Monday afternoon. The House vote took place at 9.08 p.m., while Senators took until almost midnight to pass it.
Both chambers overwhelmingly passed the bill, and, despite her objections, Ocasio-Cortez also voted in favor.
The New York representative tweeted an Hollywood Reporter article which said that provisions in the bill would make illegal video streaming into a felony.
She said: “This is why Congress needs time to actually read this package before voting on it.
“Members of Congress have not read this bill.”
“It’s over 5000 pages, arrived at 2pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours. This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.”
Ocasio-Cortez argued that time for public scrutiny – not just for lawmakers – is just as important.
“Members are reeling right now bc they don’t have time to consult [with] their communities,” she wrote.
Broad summaries of the top-line items in the COVID-19 relief bill had been widely shared, including matters that have been part of public debate for weeks – like sending $600 stimulus checks to Americans and the scale of unemployment insurance.
But the full spending bill contained measured that had not previously been widely shared. These included aid for several countries and provisions for race horse owners, sexual abstinence programs, and the Space Force.
Lawmakers have debated COVID-19 relief measures throughout the summer and fall. But much of the progress towards the final shape of the deal has been made in the last two weeks, necessitating extending the deadline twice to prevent a government shutdown.
The bill passed in the House by 359 votes to 53, including a yea from Ocasio-Cortez. Around two hours later, it passed the Senate with a substantial majority, and as of early Tuesday was awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.
The draft version of the COVID-19 stimulus package has a tax break for corporate hospitality lobbied for personally by President Donald Trump, according to The Washington Post.
The measure would allow businesses to deduct the full cost of a business meal from their federal taxes, as opposed to the current 50%, the paper reported.
Although Congressional leaders struck a deal for a stimulus package late Sunday, the details have not been made public, leaving reports like the Post’s as the best source of what may have made the cut.
According to the paper, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had included the tax break as a White House priority in the negotiations.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
Summaries of the overall package released by Democrats – as well as statements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday – make no direct mention of it.
But a Democratic aide told the Post that Democrats accepted the measure in exchange for GOP agreeing to expanded tax credits for the working poor and low-income families.
Meanwhile, there has been public backlash to the planned distribution of direct stimulus checks of $600, half the amount of the last round in April.
Trump brought the corporate dining suggestion to the table in April as a way to boost the restaurant industry, the Post reported.
“They’ll send their executives, they’ll send people there, and they get a deduction,” the Post reported him as saying. “That is something that will really bring life back to the restaurants, I think make them hotter than before.”
It was included in the GOP’s $1 trillion draft Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools Act (HEALS Act) in July, along with corporate pandemic liability protections. Both measures have been fiercely resisted by Democrats, and the HEALS Act did not pass.
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden slammed Republicans for having “held up aid” in order to pass the measure in the most recent negotiations.
Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, wrote in May that the measure is unlikely to boost the economy effectively.
“Since the president has a long history in the hospitality business, his affinity for this tax subsidy isn’t surprising,” he wrote. “But as a tool to stimulate the current troubled economy, this tax break is, as the president himself might say, a total loser.”
He argued that it “won’t do much more than increase the reward for business execs who game the system,” noting that the current 50% business meal deduction is already often used for tax avoidance.
Congress is expected to vote on the package on Monday, after a long tug-of-war between more generous proposals favored by the Democratic Party and leaner deals put forward by Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dug in to his position on COVID-19 stimulus talks, arguing that his bill addresses a “bipartisan consensus” while refusing to endorse the one crafted by a bipartisan group.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to budge from his position on COVID-19 stimulus negotiations, slamming the Democratic Party and saying his bill already addresses a “bipartisan consensus.”
A bipartisan group of senators are rushing to finalize the wording on a separate, $908 billion proposal that McConnell has refused to back, preferring his own bill, which is much narrower.
The bipartisan plan has attracted the backing of leading Democratic figures such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who dropped their earlier demand for a $2.2 trillion plan in order to move bipartisan agreement along. The bipartisan plan also has growing support among Republicans.
However, a week after that proposal was first announced, McConnell’s rhetoric around bipartisanship remains essentially unchanged.
“Drop the all-or-nothing tactics, drop the hostage-taking, and make law in the many places where we have common ground,” he said on the Senate floor Monday, emphasizing the urgency of getting relief to Americans in the pandemic.
He argued that his own bill covers three areas that Democratic Party members have called to address – suggesting it is therefore essentially bipartisan.
Citing demands from Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, McConnell named three areas on which both parties agree in principle: “Extending unemployment insurance; helping small businesses; and funding vaccine distribution.”
“Those three urgent issues are issues where there is almost total bipartisan consensus … Check, check, and check,” he said.
There are, however, major differences between the two proposals:
The $908 billion stimulus package proposes support for small business loans, state and local government, education, unemployment insurance, healthcare, and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.
McConnell’s package omits federal unemployment benefits or aid for state and local government, according to The Washington Post. It has instead provisions for education, small business, and pandemic-related liability protections for businesses.
Neither package includes a second round of $1,200 checks.
McConnell’s package is closely modeled on a Republican-backed one that has failed to pass twice this fall.
Significant disagreements also remain within the discussions of the bipartisan proposal.
The two sticking points center around protections for businesses from coronavirus-related litigation, which the Republicans seek; and the scale of support to state and local government, which the Democrats want to expand.
On Wednesday, Congress will vote on a one-week extension of government funding to buy more time for COVID-19 relief negotiations. Congress aims to attach COVID-19 relief to the overall government spending package this month