Congress OKs $1.9T virus relief bill; includes billions for MA and RI

The bill is expected to bring almost $8 billion to Massachusetts and nearly $2 billion to Rhode Island.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Americans will start seeing more money in their bank accounts and in their communities after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Wednesday. President Biden still has to sign the bill this week.

The bill is expected to bring almost $8 billion to Massachusetts and nearly $2 billion to Rhode Island.

“I don’t think there’s anything like it that’s happened before in recent American history in terms of putting a real surge of relief to people who’ve had a really bad year,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

The bill extends the $300 per week unemployment benefits, which were set to run out this weekend, until September.

There’s also billions for school re-openings to pay for things like testing, or improved ventilation.

The money also includes billions for state and local governments to keep them functioning at full capacity, and help them with vaccine administration.

“Cities and towns have fiscal budgets that are lagging indicators of hard times,” said Representative Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional District. “So their upcoming fiscal years are likely to be very tough. The money that’s coming is going to ensure that they don’t have to cut essential services.”

The legislation  also includes direct payments of $1,400 to people making less than $75,000 a year. It’s estimated that half a million households in Rhode Island will receive those checks.

In Massachusetts, Auchincloss says the majority of residents in Bristol County will receive the stimulus checks.

The bill faced opposition from the GOP because of its hefty price tag and much of its non-pandemic scope.

ABC 6 political analyst and Providence College Political Science Professor Joe Cammarano says the legislation could be a disaster, or go very well, though he thinks the latter because of how much money is aimed at helping lower income Americans.

“What makes this plan so dramatic is, it actually targets most of its funding to people who have been left behind over the last 30-35 years,” explained Cammarano. “And so the inequality gap, which has grown, is actually going to be reduced by this bill.”

Professor Cammarano also said that because Rhode Island has been doing better financially than many other states, it may not need to use all $2 billion.

Rhode Island’s senior Senator Jack Reed disagrees.

“We tend to underestimate the actual cost of these problems. Last March we passed the CARES Act and it was over a trillion dollars and I think many of my colleagues thought, ‘Well that’s enough, we’re fine.’ And then we discovered later, ‘No we’re not fine,'” said Reed. “We’ve passed two other bills since then.”

Direct payments will start going out this month. States and municipalities will have until the end of 2024 to use their share of the money.

 

Categories: Coronavirus, Massachusetts, Politics, Regional News, Rhode Island, US & World News