It has been a challenging two years for the American people. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 800,000 Americans and infected nearly 50 million people. Across the country, this pandemic has strained nearly every aspect of our lives.
It was just over nine months ago that Democrats in the House and Senate, under President Joe Biden’s leadership, came together to address this unprecedented crisis by passing the American Rescue Plan. We confronted the pandemic head-on by providing the necessary resources to distribute vaccines, safely reopen schools, keep small businesses afloat and provide financial support to keep families in their homes.
Not a single Republican supported this bold plan.
It is unfortunate that in recent weeks my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have been attacking the American Rescue Plan and even claiming that only 10 percent of it went to addressing the pandemic. That is nonsense.
So how is the American Rescue Plan continuing to help families in communities across the country?
In November, more than 61 million children benefited from child tax credit payments provided by the American Rescue Plan, which helped to reduce child poverty by more than 25 percent. Let me repeat that. The American Rescue Plan helped reduce child poverty by more than 25 percent.
The American Rescue Plan is helping our children get back to in-person learning and doing it safely. Approximately 9 out of every 10 school districts across the nation benefited from American Rescue Plan funding, and millions of children and working parents are benefiting from the $39 billion we included to help families with child care expenses, enabling parents to return to in-person work.
At a time when lines at food banks stretched around the block and families were struggling to put food on the table, the American Rescue Plan provided 54 million Americans with $28 more per month in SNAP benefits to use at the grocery store. Perhaps for my Republican colleagues in Congress it is difficult to know what a difference these funds actually make to struggling families, but these families certainly know.
The American Rescue Plan provided new funding for the Women, Infants, and Children program, commonly known as WIC, which allowed 4.2 million low-income women and children to stock their shelves with more fresh fruits and vegetables.
The American Rescue Plan was crucial to our effort to get people vaccinated and to expand access to testing, which is truly the only way to get this virus under control. It paid for over 180 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for domestic use, and it will support the procurement of 500 million vaccine doses to distribute around the world in our ongoing efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic in its tracks.
As the pandemic swept across the country, countless restaurants were struggling to survive. To help keep these small businesses open and serving their communities, the American Rescue Plan’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund distributed more than $28 billion to 101,000 restaurants.
Finally, the American Rescue Plan provided $350 billion in aid to support state and local governments. Consider the bleak picture of where we were just a year ago. In December 2020, tax receipts for state and local governments had shrunk by hundreds of billions of dollars, and 1.3 million public servants, from police officers to schoolteachers, had lost their jobs.
Because of the American Rescue Plan we averted this crisis provided these governments with the resources to address the pandemic and rebuild. In my own state of Vermont, we are using these funds to build affordable housing and expand broadband access to our rural communities. In red and blue states across the country, these funds are supporting transportation infrastructure, new day care centers, nursing homes, rural hospitals and food banks, among other worthy projects.
These are the same funds that my Republican colleagues are now taking credit for but decried at the time as a “blue-state bailout” and a “partisan spending spree.” The last time I checked, supporting hospitals in rural communities was not a partisan issue, whether they were in Vermont or Texas. It is shameful how some elected officials can take these needed resources with one hand while pointing a finger and casting blame to score political points with the other. This is partisan rhetoric over reality.
But what has the American Rescue Plan and the Biden agenda meant for America’s economy?
Year-end real GDP is expected to surge by 5.6 percent, which would be more than 2.8 times the average between 2000 and 2019. The jobless rate fell from 6.2 percent in February to just 4.2 percent in November, and the economy is poised to expand 5.5 percent in Biden’s first year as president.
Claiming the American Rescue Plan is the cause of inflation or some socialist takeover is disingenuous at best and a flat-out lie at worst. Expert after expert has agreed that the inflation we are seeing is mainly the result of the supply chain lurching back to life. I have to ask my colleagues who are blaming the American Rescue Plan for inflation, what was their alternative — just let people suffer?
If my colleagues want to falsely claim that these programs did not help the American people or help to bring our economy back to life during the pandemic, that’s fine. But the tens of millions of people who benefited from these programs and the hundreds of thousands of businesses whose doors stayed open know that is not true.
The American Rescue Plan is a vital safety net that helped to keep small businesses afloat, families fed and in their homes, and is funding a global vaccination effort. It touched the lives of people in every community across this country, and isn’t supporting and improving the lives of the American people exactly what we are here to do?
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy is a Democrat representing the state of Vermont. He chairs the Appropriations Committee and also serves on the Judiciary, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Rules and Administration committees.