The U.S. Senate narrowly passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill Saturday afternoon, meaning eligible Americans are one step closer to getting $1,400 checks and access to extended $300-a-week unemployment benefits.
The House, which passed its own version, must now vote on the Senate-approved version. If it passes, Philadelphia is slated to get hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
Progressives are expected to be frustrated that the bill does not include a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, as the Senate voted Friday against Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal to include it. Delaware Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper and six other Democrats broke with the party to oppose it.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) cheered the passing of the aid package. “Now that the Senate has passed the American Rescue Plan, the country is one step closer to putting the virus behind us,” he tweeted.
Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), on the other hand, derided the bill as a “rescue plan for the left-wing agenda.” Toomey, who plans to retire after his current term, pointed to line items like $270 million for the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities and $350 billion for state and local governments.
“This isn’t about COVID relief,” he tweeted. “It’s about using a health crisis as an excuse to ram through a left wing wishlist.”
Republican senators unanimously opposed the stimulus bill, despite its bipartisan popularity outside of Washington and with a variety of special-interest groups, from labor organizations to business associations.
Though it was unclear Saturday how much funding state and local governments might receive per the Senate’s version of the bill, Pennsylvania stood to receive $13 billion in the House’s version — including $1.3 billion earmarked for Philadelphia to offset budget deficits caused by the pandemic. The city is facing a $450 million budget deficit.
“The federal relief couldn’t have come soon enough,” read a statement from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office. “We’re still reviewing the details of the 600+ page bill and compromises reached overnight, but the mayor is particularly pleased that the American Rescue Plan includes stimulus checks for Americans as well as billions of dollars in aid for states and municipalities, schools, small businesses and vaccine distribution. All are critically important to jumpstarting our economic recovery.”
“A year ago, most small businesses had very little cash reserve,” said Della Clark, president of the West Philadelphia nonprofit the Enterprise Center. “We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. I hope that the dollars that will flow from this stimulus package to Pennsylvania and Philadelphia will be inclusive and will flow to small businesses in a way that they can recover and help our overall local recovery.”
Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson said the bill was “coming at a critical time when families are going to bed hungry, businesses are just struggling to keep their doors open.”
“We’re still the number-one city when it comes to poverty, so when we talk about individuals who are homeless because they can’t pay their rent, individuals who are on the verge of losing their home because they can’t afford their mortgage, people closing their business because they don’t have necessary financial support, it shows how critically important this relief package is in helping people regain some level of normalcy to their lives,” he said. Johnson added that he would have hoped for an increase in the federal minimum wage. “That’s another fight we’ll fight another day.”
Hannah Laurison, executive director of the progressive political organization PA Stands Up, praised the bill as “bold and comprehensive,” even without the minimum-wage increase. She referenced the bill’s plan to cut child poverty in half by expanding tax credits for poor parents, increasing subsidies for child care, expanding eligibility for the Affordable Care Act, and expanding food stamps and rental assistance.
“We will keep fighting for $15, but this plan will lift more than 140,000 children out of poverty in Pennsylvania,” she said in a statement.
The package also includes billions for small businesses and a $28 billion program to help the hard-hit restaurant industry.
“It’s extraordinarily good news,” said Center City District president and CEO Paul Levy, who saw promise in the bill’s potential economic impact for the city. “This obviously has the immediate effect of pandemic relief, but it has direct payments to hundreds of millions of Americans, which means people in Philadelphia who may have been unemployed or underemployed have more money to spend.”
“The big opportunity here is for a strategic reset,” Levy said, “to make a more competitive city, to restore money to economic development that grows more Black and brown jobs, that grows all jobs faster.”
“This will be another opportunity for taverns, bars, and restaurants to try to make up for some of the losses that they’ve had during the past year,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, adding that he hoped to see an easing in mitigation orders follow suit.
“Hospitality workers have been through a lot in this past year,” said Rosslyn Wuchinich of UNITE HERE Local 274, which represents Philly tourism workers, who have faced severe layoffs in the pandemic. “The deal reached by Senate Democrats fulfills a promise to the workers who helped put them in power.”
“I feel it’s the light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve been hoping for,” said Ben Fileccia, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association’s director of operations and strategy for the Philadelphia region. “It may not help people thrive, but it will definitely help people survive. ... We’ve rounded the corner and there is hope on the horizon now. We have people getting vaccinated, case counts going down, the warm weather just a month down the road — there’s so much hope right now, and this is going to give people that much more hope.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphians busted out the memes to celebrate the “stimmy.”