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The president-elect’s $1.9 trillion plan includes funding for a national Covid-19 vaccination program, expanded testing capacity, and safety measures to help reopen schools.
President-elect Joe Biden’s rescue package to respond to the coronavirus pandemic will direct roughly $400 billion into public health initiatives meant to ramp up vaccinations and help reduce the spread of the virus.
The Biden transition team released details Thursday of the roughly $1.9 trillion plan, which will be the first major legislative push the president-elect undertakes after he is sworn into office next week.
The plan includes $20 billion for a national vaccine program that will work with state, local and tribal governments to stand up community vaccination centers and deploy mobile vaccine services to remote regions of the country. Expanded testing capacity is key to the administration’s goal to safely reopening schools for in-person learning, and the plan will allocate $50 billion to expand testing lab capacity, purchase rapid tests, and to help schools and local governments implement regular testing protocols.
“Expanded testing will ensure that schools can implement regular testing to support safe reopening; that vulnerable settings like prisons and long-term care facilities can regularly test their populations; and that any American can get a test for free when they need one,” a description of Biden’s plan says.
Additionally, the proposal would provide $130 billion to assist schools in reopening or facilitating remote learning. Schools could use the money for numerous different types of improvements, such as reducing class size or modifying classrooms to accommodate social distancing protocols, improving ventilation systems, or purchasing personal protective equipment. The Biden plan fact sheet also indicated that the funding could be used to prevent cuts to state pre-K programs.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is poised to become the Senate’s majority leader, issued a joint statement Thursday night praising the plan.
“We will get right to work to turn President-elect Biden’s vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law,” Pelosi and Schumer said.
The Biden plan also includes funding to hire 100,000 public health workers, who would initially work on vaccine outreach or contact tracing in local communities. But the plan envisions those workers could later transition into other community health roles.
Local public health leaders have cautioned that a job corps plan too heavily focused on contact tracing would miss the current on-the-ground needs of public health agencies.
To help discourage employees from coming to work when they are sick and to help prevent the spread of the virus, the Biden administration would also look to fund the expansion of paid sick leave. The administration will ask Congress to reinstate provisions of earlier relief legislation that would require employers to offer 14 weeks of emergency paid sick leave through September. The administration would also seek to eliminate exemptions for employers with more than 500 employees or less than 50 employees. By closing that loophole, Biden’s team estimates up to 106 million more American workers would have access to paid sick leave.
State and local governments would be reimbursed for the cost of the expanded leave that is outlined in the proposal.
The Biden plan acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic has hit certain groups harder than others, including communities of color and residents and workers at long-term care facilities. As such, the plan serves to address disparities by ensuring equitable distribution of vaccines and supplies to underserved communities. The plan would provide funding to expand community health centers in underserved areas and also provide states funding to deploy strike teams to long-term care facilities to help with Covid-19 response.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.