The COVID-19 pandemic is a critical point of focus in President Joe Biden’s economic policies. His plan, which was released in January 2021, promises a coordinated federal response based on science. It would provide funding and guidance to help states, cities, companies, and schools respond to the pandemic, and extra help would go to students, small businesses, the elderly, and minorities most affected by COVID-19.
President Biden hopes to stop the pandemic through increased mask-wearing, testing, and vaccines, and he has proposed several initiatives to stabilize the economy and limit second-tier effects.
During his first few days in office, Biden implemented some components of the comprehensive plan with executive orders and presidential memoranda. Increased spending, outlined in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, was approved by Congress on March 11, 2021.
Here’s a look at Biden’s plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
- President Biden has proposed a coordinated federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic based on science. He started implementing relevant executive orders as soon as he took office in January 2021.
- Biden’s plan to stop the pandemic expands regulation around mask-wearing and increases the availability and accessibility of tests and vaccines.
- The Biden administration would provide funding and guidance to help states, cities, companies, and schools respond to the pandemic, providing extra help to students, small businesses, the elderly, and minority populations.
- Biden plans to stabilize the economy to limit second-tier effects from COVID-19.
Use Data and Science to Defeat COVID-19
To control the outbreak, Biden adopted strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On January 20—the day of his inauguration—Biden signed executive orders mandating mask-wearing on federal property and in airports and planes while traveling domestically and internationally. The federal government’s authority to order a national mask mandate—over-riding state positions—is possible but would most likely be challenged in the courts.
Biden plans to implement a nationally coordinated testing and contact-tracing plan. In coordination with his promise to double the number of drive-thru testing sites, on January 21, he established the U.S. Public Health Job Corps to train and assist with contact tracing and vaccinations.
In a January 21 executive order, Biden required federal agencies to use CDC guidelines to advise states on how to reopen schools and early childhood education providers safely. The goal of the executive order is to create a set of federal guidelines that prioritize quality education during the pandemic and beyond, including a specific focus on calculating and improving the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on minority-serving institutions.
Biden has also ordered federal agencies to improve the production of more personal protective equipment (PPE) and is ready to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) if needed to acquire additional stockpiles, improve distribution systems, and expand the industrial base. According to Biden, more PPE is needed to safeguard essential workers and school personnel. He ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay for additional use of the states’ National Guard to support the emergency assistance.
The DPA allows the president to use executive orders to direct private companies to prioritize orders from the federal government. He can also authorize companies to coordinate with each other without triggering antitrust laws.
Since taking office, Biden has had a data-driven response to the pandemic. He has required all federal agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to make all information that is helpful in fighting the virus available and accessible to the public. He asked the CDC to publish a real-time pandemic dashboard that provides local information about the outbreak, which would help high-risk individuals better understand what level of precaution to take.
Invest in Resources Needed to Fight the Virus
Biden created a position, titled Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President, to direct the federal response to the pandemic. Jeffrey Zients, former head of the National Economic Council, will advise the president with his COVID-19 response, overseeing the distribution of vaccines, tests, and other supplies.
The president directed the HHS, in partnership with Zients and his team, to support research on COVID-19 treatments and also target treatment for critical care and long-term care facilities like nursing homes.
President Biden promised to provide 100 million shots in his first 100 days as president.
Biden’s American Rescue Plan provides $160 billion for vaccine manufacturing and distribution, as well as an expansion of testing nationwide. Biden would use the Stafford Act—a law that constitutes the authority for most federal disaster-response activities—to provide emergency assistance for K-12 schools. In all, through the vast expansion of vaccine manufacturing and distribution, as well as investments in PPE, proper technology, and health protocols for those in the education industry, Biden would put over $400 billion toward these critical measures in addressing COVID-19.
Biden promised to help small businesses through a “restart package” that would make it easier to operate safely. It would include grants to cover the costs of items like plexiglass dividers and PPE. Through the restart package, Biden would ensure that minority-owned firms receive any technical assistance needed to get access to these tools. The American Rescue Plan outlines a total of approximately $440 billion in critical support for struggling communities, with specifically $15 billion in grants and $175 billion in low-interest loans to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Biden’s plan creates a renewable fund for state and local governments to prevent budget shortfalls. The support would include $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, $20 billion to tribal governments, and $20 billion to support public transit.
Remove Cost Barriers
Biden has promised that all Americans would have access to regular, reliable, and free testing. In an effort to keep that promise, Biden signed an executive order on January 21 to set up a Pandemic Testing Board to produce and distribute testing on a national scale. The Board’s goal is to target and prioritize underserved populations such as the homeless, those in high-risk settings, and health care workers.
In recognition of the disproportionate toll the coronavirus has taken on minorities, Biden established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. It will recommend ways to address disparities in the health care system facing communities of color and other underserved populations.
Stabilize the Economy
The pandemic devastated the economy. While the majority of Biden’s recovery plan is focused on ending the pandemic, other measures are also needed to address the second-tier effects of long-term unemployment, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.
The 2020 recession shrank the economy by a record 31.4% in the second quarter. Although it grew by 33.4% in the third quarter and 4.3% in the fourth quarter, it was not enough to make up for the lost output.
On January 22, Biden issued executive orders to provide financial assistance to those whose incomes plummeted during the pandemic. He called on all federal agencies to prioritize actions that would help state, local, and tribal governments, as well as the unemployed, families, and small businesses.
Biden sent the American Rescue Plan to Congress for approval in January 2021, and it was passed on March 11, 2021. The package includes $1,400 checks for qualifying households. This is in addition to the $600 stimulus payment approved in December 2020.
The relief plan also expands the Child Tax Credit (CTC) by requiring the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide $3,600 a year per child under the age of 6, and $3,000 per child age 6 through 17. The plan raises the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers and expands the income limits, allowing more people to claim the EITC.
Biden promised to stabilize the economy by protecting essential workers. In addition to adequate PPE, this includes emergency paid sick leave to everyone who needs it. Biden also supports work-sharing, often referred to as "short-time compensation programs." Instead of laying workers off, companies would keep them part-time and allow full health coverage and benefits. The federal government would subsidize the difference.
The American Rescue Plan expands sick and family medical leave through September 30, 2021, for anyone who gets sick with COVID-19 or has to stay home to care for family members who are ill with the virus.
Focus on Populations Most Impacted
President Biden is also heavily focused on ending the hunger crisis in America. He supports the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act that temporarily allows the federal government to pay restaurants to prepare meals for the hungry. On January 22, his administration increased SNAP benefits by 15%, providing more funding for low-income families and children who have lost access to their food supply due to school closures.
To help Americans who face uninsured health costs, Biden ordered HHS to reopen enrollment to Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plans from February 15 to May 15, 2021. He also reversed orders from the Trump administration that weakened the ACA and made short-term plans available. He directed agencies to rescind any actions that arose from the prior Trump orders.
To aid seniors, Biden plans to increase Social Security checks by $200 a month.
In outlined plans prior to his inauguration, Biden also promised to:
- Create a new public health option
- Lower premiums for insurance provided by the ACA
- Subsidize premiums for those who lost their jobs so they could continue to receive coverage under their employer-sponsored plans
- Increase federal support of Medicaid
- Lower age eligibility for Medicare to 60
To lessen the burden of student loan debt, the Biden administration also wants to forgive $10,000 in federal student loans for borrowers in economic distress, specifically low- and middle-income students attending undergraduate public colleges and universities. As of August 2021, the Acting Secretary of Education also extended the pause of federal student loan payments and collections to Jan. 31, 2021, keeping the interest rate at 0%.
Student loan debt forgiven or discharged between 2021 and 2025 is tax-free, due to the American Rescue Plan of 2021.
To provide support for homeowners, Biden asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until at least March 31, 2021. Renters and small landlords were to receive $30 billion to cope with the moratorium, meant to target rental relief and home energy and water costs.
Although it had been extended several times, the eviction order was eventually ended by the Supreme Court on August 26, 2021.
Exercise Global Leadership
Since taking office, Biden has acted upon his pledge to reconnect with international programs focused on the health and safety of citizens. He has restored America’s membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) and has also reinstated the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was initially created to help manage global health threats like Ebola. The Biden administration plans to expand the CDC’s disease detective forces, especially in China, to spot future threats.