New York Congressman Antonio Delgado held a town hall Tuesday night on the American Rescue Plan, which was finalized in the House Wednesday. The COVID-19 relief package includes direct aid for state and local governments.
The Democratic 19th District congressman began his town hall enumerating the highlights of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Delgado says the plan is the most robust relief package since the CARES Act one year ago.
“Indeed, my formula would ensure that $130.2 billion, billion dollars will go to local governments all across the United States,” says Delgado. “And, as it pertains to New York-19, it would bring in over $400 million directly to our counties, our towns, our villages and our hamlets.”
He says New York state will receive $12.6 billion separately from local governments. Then there are direct payments.
“The legislation would ensure that individuals earning up to $75,000, and couples earning up to $150,000, will receive $1,400 checks, per person,” says Delgado.
Plus $1,400 for each dependent claimed on tax returns. So a family of four earning up to $150,000 would receive $5,600. Delgado says the IRS will begin sending checks within a week of President Biden signing the package.
“This is about trying to get our arms wrapped around the enormity of this pandemic and what it has done to our communities. We have come together, communities on the ground, families, neighbors have come together to support themselves out of good will and compassion and love,” Delgado says. “And it’s incumbent at the federal level that our policy reflects that, too, that we have the compassion, that we have the heart to step up and meet this moment.”
Delgado read and answered 11 of the more than 200 questions received, including from Sharon in Dutchess County, who wanted to know if towns can use the direct funding to make up shortfalls due to COVID expenses. Delgado says the idea is to allow flexibility.
“So when you talk about shortfalls in the budget, Sharon, you’re talking about how we can account for those shortfalls in the budget, well, we have the ability in this round of funding here to be able to use the money to offset those shortfalls,” Delgado says.
William from Rensselaer asked why taxpayers are bailing out Democratic states, adding that taxpayer money shouldn’t bail out blue states unable to balance their budgets. Delgado responds:
“I have to push back a little bit, William, on this idea of red states and blue states. I think that is a way of framing the problem that doesn’t really see the problem for what it is. And we have got to be able to get beyond the filtered partisanship that is coloring how we talk about these issues. We’re talking about people in need, we’re talking about communities in need, we’re talking about local governments and states on the ground who are doing what they can to provide essential services,” Delgado says. “When I talk to my Republican local electeds on the ground, and they tell me they need the aid and the relief, they’re not wearing their Republican hat, their Democrat… they’re wearing their public servant hat.”
The relief plan extends federal unemployment benefits.
“Under the revised Senate version, federal unemployment insurance payments will be $300 per week, and the benefits will extend through September 6,” says Delgado. “The plan makes your first $10,200 unemployment benefits non-taxable for households with incomes making under $150,000.”
And child tax credits are expanded.
“It increases the amount to $3,000 for children ages 6-17, and $3,600 for children under 6,” says Delgado.
There are billions of dollars for expanding vaccination distribution, including for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue with a vaccination and testing program.
“These dollars mean more vaccination sites, better signup systems, faster distribution of the vaccine,” Delgado says. “Again, we must ensure our rural communities and underserved communities are getting the vaccine equitably.”
The plan includes funding for education, to support the reopening of schools safely.
“The American Rescue Plan delivers $128 billion in grants to state educational agencies, with 90 percent of those funds going to local educational agencies, local educational agencies. Additionally, $39 billion will be delivered to higher education institutions; $15 billion in funds are directed to the Child Care & Development Block Grant program, to support child-care facilities, which is so important,” says Delgado. “I also want to highlight a new provision that makes any future student loan forgiveness tax-free.”
Lori (Laurie?) says portions of Greene County have no internet access and no cell-phone reception. The necessity is heightened by so many people working from home and attending school online. Delgado says the direct aid to local communities could be used to help in a sector that should be considered a basic utility.
“The local government funding piece can be utilized to help our government entities on the ground build out broadband,” says Delgado.
He hopes broadband will be part of a future infrastructure bill. Delgado says the American Rescue Plan supports small business owners, allocating $7.25 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program. There is support for small family-owned restaurants, and resources for arts venues that were shuttered. Delgado has held 53 town halls, including 35 in-person events and 18 virtual town halls, during the pandemic.