Another massive COVID relief package is expected to be approved in the U.S. House this week. Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, the Springfield Democrat who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, held a news conference to discuss the proposal.
Neal said House Democrats plan to move quickly with an up or down vote Friday on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan which includes $1,400 per person direct payments along with extended and enhanced unemployment aid to millions of people who remain out of work.
" So, I think the assembly of what we have done here is sound and stands up under the microscope of analysis and is necessary," said Neal.
Democrats are using an arcane procedure known as budget reconciliation to advance the package through the House and then the Senate. As a result, it could pass without a single Republican vote.
The legislation would extend temporary federal unemployment benefits that are currently set to expire on March 14th through August 29th. The weekly benefit would increase from $300 to $400.
"I hope by the end of March people will start to feel it," said Neal.
Speaking with reporters in Springfield Monday, Neal highlighted provisions of the relief plan that came from the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. It includes an enhancement of the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children, something Neal said he’d advocated for many years.
"I've been on this forever," said Neal of the proposal to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit to individual filers. "It works and it rewards work."
The bill would expand the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under age 6. There is also a change to the child care tax credit which could allow people to claim half their child care expenses.
Neal said it troubling that so many women have had to leave the workforce during the pandemic because schools closed and they could not find child care.
"We think going forward this will give an opportunity for more and dependable child care," said Neal.
Small business and restaurant assistance programs would receive additional funding if the relieve bill passes. There is $350 billion to support state and local governments.
"There are qualifiers in that," said Neal "It can not be used for pension relief and the sorts of issues the critics are saying. I has to go to essential workers on the direct lines. That is a very important consideration. There will be tight guidelines to how that money is utilized and expended."
Neal said the money for local governments could also be used to help schools reopen by paying for improvements to the ventilation systems.
Even before this COVID relief plan passes, the White House and Congressional leaders are looking ahead to a massive infrastructure bill.
"The president has made it clear he's going big, and we're going with him," said Neal.
Pointing to what happened last week in Texas, Neal said the infrastructure program could pay to beef up electric grids across the country.