Berkeley community members and campus students reflected on the impacts of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which was signed into law Thursday.
The relief package — known as the American Rescue Plan — was given final approval by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday and will fund a third stimulus payment, extend boosted unemployment benefits and direct nearly $15 billion in funds toward the Child Care and Development Block Grant program to help support child care facilities, particularly in high-need areas.
In addition, the package will increase the child tax credit and provide $30 billion for emergency rental assistance.
Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison noted the extensive relief package marked a sharp contrast to recent trends of limited government involvement.
“The plan will provide the City of Berkeley with $68 million in much-needed relief, raise half of the nation’s children out of poverty and reinstate the role of the Federal government in creating a safety net and helping cities deliver services,” Harrison said in an email.
Last December, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ issued a statement explaining that about 10,000 campus staff members can expect to see reductions in pay beginning in February to “confront the pandemic’s significant and persistent impacts on our finances.”
In regards to education, the bill includes more than $128 billion in grants to state educational agencies, with 90% allocated to local educational agencies, plus $39 billion in grants to higher education institutions.
Campus graduate student Michael Sun noted that while the package was a “partial win” for progressives, it also included many features that fell short of the expectations he, and many others, had for the package.
“Most of the bill’s provisions are temporary– making them permanent will be its own battle, and I am not optimistic that it will be done,” Sun said in an email. “Given Senate Democrats’ reluctance to abolish the filibuster (and having no margin for error even when only needing a simple majority), this might well be the highlight of the Biden administration.”
The bill makes any student loan forgiveness between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2026, tax-free instead of treating the forgiven debt as taxable income. In addition, $25 billion is being allocated for emergency rental assistance. $5 billion will be dedicated to emergency housing vouchers for people experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.
The package was a “shabby attempt” to provide relief to Americans, according to campus freshman Tatum Luoma, but she added that the aid could also help provide a point of unification for many.
“I do understand the difficulties that his relief bill faces, but I think that the stimulus check is not only too small but took far too long to be passed,” Luoma said in an email. “A year in a pandemic is not going to be helped at all by only 1400 dollars.”