Hundreds of millions of dollars included in the new coronavirus relief package expected to be signed into law this week are aimed at addressing societal problems exacerbated by the pandemic.
Leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives announced on Sunday that they came to an agreement on a new economic stimulus package worth about $900 billion aimed at providing relief for Americans impacted by the pandemic. The stimulus bill is part of a $1.4 trillion omnibus 2021 spending package and marks the first time both chambers of Congress agreed upon a coronavirus relief package since President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law in March.
Since the CARES Act, the House led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed two versions of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, known as the HEROES Act, though the legislation never made it through the Senate. With new COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country and frustrations mounting about the lack of federal assistance for American workers, legislators in Washington, D.C., voiced determination to pass a new relief package before the end of this year.
During a news conference on Sunday, Pelosi highlighted childcare support, nutrition assistance and other Democratic victories included in the bill while acknowledging that she and other members within the Democratic Party did not believe the current bill goes far enough.
“We consider this a first step and that, again, more needs to be done,” Pelosi said. “We’re so excited that that will be happening under the Biden-Harris administration, about 700 hours from now.”
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News’ The Daily Briefing that the new relief package was “directly targeted at exactly what the country needs right now.” McConnell also kept the door open for additional pandemic relief packages under President-elect Joe Biden‘s incoming administration.
The new relief package includes one-time direct payments of $600 to qualifying Americans, as well as expanded unemployment benefits for those out of work due to the pandemic. In addition to providing direct financial aid for Americans in need, the relief package provides funding to support COVID-19 vaccine distribution and tackles several problems Americans face every day that the pandemic worsened.
The House Appropriations Committee’s communications director, Evan Hollander, addressed some of those funding items in a statement shared with Newsweek.
“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed holes in our nation’s social safety net and threatens to widen the digital divide,” Hollander said. “In crafting emergency coronavirus relief legislation, House Democrats have secured important funding to address surging mental health and substance abuse crises and help protect vulnerable seniors. To ensure that America’s kids and families have access to the broadband internet that is essential in the 21st century, Democrats have also added funding to support broadband connectivity.”
Here are five of the funding items included in the bill that do not directly stimulate the economy but are intended to address struggles compounded by the pandemic that some Americans face every day.
$4.25 Billion for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs
Legislators set aside $1.65 billion each for the Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment and the Mental Health Services block grants. They designated another $600 million for certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics and $50 million for suicide prevention programs. Some of the funding was also allocated for mental health and trauma support among children.
Lawmakers’ decision to include funding for mental health and substance abuse programs is likely in response to the impact the pandemic has had on the American public. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August, the percentages of Americans struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse have increased in response to pandemic-inspired stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements.
$100 Million to Combat Elder Abuse and Neglect
The money designated to combat elder abuse and neglect represents half of the amount included in the HEROES 2.0 proposal the House passed in October. While HEROES 2.0 specified how its $200 million was to be spent on preventing, investigating and prosecuting elder abuse, the description for the elder abuse funding in this new bill is brief and simply says the money is intended to “address abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly, including adult protective service and long-term care ombudsman activities.”
$400 Million for Dairy Donation Program
Milk processing companies will be reimbursed when they convert their milk products into other dairy products and donate them to food banks and other nonprofit nutrition organizations under this portion of the relief package.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has a Milk Donation Reimbursement Program, which legislators acknowledged in allocating money for this new dairy program. According to the bill, the milk processing companies that participate are responsible for negotiating their donations with nonprofit organizations, after which the Department of Agriculture will reimburse them for the cost of the milk used.
$60 Million for Meat and Poultry Facility Upgrades
Though many meat and poultry processing facilities in the U.S. have struggled through COVID-19 outbreaks among employees, this portion of the spending bill appears to be focused more on the supply chain side of the meat processing industry.
The goal of the facility upgrades funded under this provision are intended to “help [facilities] move to Federal inspection and be able to sell their products across state lines,” according to a summary of the bill written by the Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Appropriations.
$1.3 Billion for Broadband Connectivity Grants
As many American workers and school-aged children shifted to virtual working and learning environments this year, internet reliability and access became a point of concern for legislators representing communities without dependable broadband connections.
In addition to providing billions in aid to expand broadband access and improve telehealth programs, the relief package sets aside $1 billion for a grant program aimed at expanding broadband accessibility on tribal land across the country.
“The grants would be directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion,” according to the bill.
Another $300 million is included in this portion of the bill to provide grants for expanding broadband access in rural areas and other locations without dependable connections. States and local governments will negotiate the grants with broadband companies based on which are able to provide access to a greater number of individuals, the bill states.
5 Items in the New Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Not Specifically Tied to Economic Relief Wire Services/ Newsweek.