WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, hours before he planned to address the nation to begin an extensive outreach campaign explaining the massive spending package.
The measure includes direct payments of up to $1,400 for individuals, billions to help schools and colleges reopen, and funding for vaccine distribution – along with many other measures aimed at helping America recover from the pandemic.
"I believe this… historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people of this nation – working people, middle class folks, people that built the country – a fighting chance," Biden said, before signing the bill from the Oval Office as Vice President Kamala Harris stood behind him. "I’m going to have a lot more to say about that tonight and the next couple days."
Shortly after, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the direct payments could start showing up in people's bank accounts as early as this weekend.
The White House moved up the bill signing to Thursday from Friday after Congress finalized the bill sooner than expected.
"We want to move as fast as possible," Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff, tweeted when the new time was announced.
Biden will still hold a celebratory signing event with congressional leaders on Friday.
The signing comes days before a federal boost to unemployment benefits was set to expire on Sunday.
No Republican voted for the legislation, which passed the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Saturday. One Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voted against it.
Republicans complain the bill is too expensive and is packed with provisions not directly related to combating the pandemic.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., criticized the bill as a "laundry list of leftwing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families."
Democrats say it is one of the largest anti-poverty bills in a generation, aiming to deliver on Biden's promise to send aid to millions of Americans grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden said an “overwhelming percentage” of the American people support the package.
In his primetime address, the first of his presidency, Biden is expected to talk about the more than 500,000 American lives lost, and the millions of people whose lives have been changed, in the year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic.
Biden is also likely to boast about what his administration's efforts to speed up vaccine production and vaccinations.
And he will talk about what else needs to be done to get the pandemic under control.
Those steps include implementing the relief package, including getting the direct payments out quickly as a top priority.
"People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend," Psaki said.
"People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend," Psaki said, "and payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks."
Biden is expected to appoint someone to oversee implementation, similar to the role he played in 2009 when President Barack Obama made him the "sheriff" of that year's economic recovery package.
"He knows directly that the passage and signing of the bill is just the beginning," Psaki said.
Employing another lesson from 2009 when the Obama administration felt it failed to fully explain to the public the administration's efforts to rescue the economy, the Biden administration is undertaking a major sales campaign.
The president, vice president, first lady and second gentlemen will, along with members of the cabinet, be hitting the roads and the airways to talk to the public about the relief package's benefits. The administration will also be deploying governors, mayors, local community leaders and others to explain the package.
The benefits include:
- Giving most Americans earning up to $75,000 a $1,400 check.
- Extending a $300 weekly federal boost to unemployment benefits through August.
- Sending $350 billion to state and local governments whose revenue has declined because of COVID-19's impact on the economy.
- Allocating $130 billion to help fully reopen schools and colleges.
- Allotting $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses.
- Devoting $50 billion for small-business assistance.
- Dedicating $160 billion for vaccine development, distribution and related needs.
- Expanding the child tax credit up to $3,600 per child.
- Expanding premium subsidies for people who buy health insurance on their own instead of getting it from an employer or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid.
The road trips by members of the administration, which the White House is calling the "Help is Here tour," will include a visit by Biden and Harris to Georgia next week.
The two Senate seats that Democrats picked up there in January gave them control of the Senate, making passage of the rescue package possible without GOP support. All previous COVID-19 relief packages passed with bipartisan support
Biden is also expected to travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
First lady Jill Biden is heading to New Jersey on Monday while Harris and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff travel to Nevada.
Harris and Emhoff are going to Colorado on Tuesday with Emhoff also visiting New Mexico on Wednesday.
"They're eager to get out there on the road," Psaki said Thursday.