| USA TODAY
COVID relief: Biden introduces plan that includes $1,400 stimulus checksJoe Biden introduced a $1.9 trillion spending package that aims to speed distribution of the coronavirus vaccines and provide economic relief.Associated Press, USA TODAYIf President-elect Joe Biden’s economic relief plans get a green light from Congress, more students may be able to return to class, jobless benefits could get a boost, and many low-wage workers will get a raise. Biden’s $1.9 trillion package, announced Thursday, would be the next phase in a relief rollout meant to ease the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused nearly 400,000 deaths and left millions of Americans unemployed as the nation struggles to contain the novel coronavirus.Biden’s plan builds on a $900 billion relief package passed by Congress in December. He says he will unveil yet another round of measures that intend to help the country rebound from the pandemic during an address to Congress in February.There is no guarantee that Biden’s proposals will be approved. Democrats hold a narrow majority in the House and Senate following the recent Georgia runoff wins of incoming Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. But Biden is hoping there can be agreement across the aisle.”There’s no time to waste,” Biden said during his remarks Thursday. “We have to act, and we have to act now.”Will enhanced unemployment benefits be extended?Biden is calling to increase enhanced unemployment benefits to $400 per week from $300 through September.Workers say they will strike to raise wages: To keep pressure on Joe Biden and Congress, fast-food workers plan to strike for higher minimum wageJob losses: Economy loses 140,000 jobs in December as unemployment holds at 6.7% amid COVID-19 spikesStates are in the process of issuing a $300-per-week boost to benefits provided by the $900 billion relief package passed in December. The payments are currently set to expire in mid-March.More than 18 million Americans are collecting jobless benefits, according to the Labor Department.Will we see an increase of the minimum wage?Biden has made raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour a key goal.“People tell me that’s going to be hard to pass,” Biden said in his remarks Thursday. There “should be a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. No one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty level.’’The federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t budged since 2009, stymied by Senate Republicans who’ve refused to raise it. And some business groups have said a $15-an-hour minimum will hobble businesses already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.But many local jurisdictions have raised their pay floors on their own. In 2021, a record high 24 states and 50 cities and counties will increase their lowest wages, according to the National Employment Law Project. Many are aiming to reach $15 an hour, if not immediately, then in the next few years. Will shuttered schools be able to reopen? Biden’s plan includes $170 billion to help schools reopen and to give financial relief to students.Students have been hunkered down at home across the U.S. as many schools shuttered in the spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the effects have been devastating, as some students found it difficult to absorb remote lessons, while others were put at a disadvantage because they didn’t have computers or steady access to WiFi at home.Gender and racial pay gaps may also widen because of the closures. Women took on much of the responsibility for children studying remotely and were more likely to alter their hours or drop out of the workforce altogether because of the strain.Will there be another stimulus check? Biden’s plan calls for $1 trillion in direct relief to taxpayers, which includes a boost in stimulus checks.The second round of $600 economic impact payments would be increased to $2,000 for taxpayers who qualify and their dependents, which means that eligible Americans could receive up to $1,400 more per person.Will it expand which dependents are eligible?Yes. Biden wants to expand eligibility for the checks after the first two rounds of payments only went to families with dependent children under 17. His plan includes payments for non-child dependents, including many college students and elderly parents living with their adult children.Those who qualify to claim these dependents on their tax return would get an additional $1,400 per dependent.Are immigrant families eligible for checks?Families who are considered mixed-status households, or those where a family member doesn’t have a Social Security number, would be eligible for stimulus payments, similar to the most recent round of direct payments. The second payment broadened the rules for the first check by allowing U.S. citizens who are married to foreign nationals without Social Security numbers to receive the aid. In those families, children with Social Security numbers would qualify.Those without Social Security numbers, typically unauthorized immigrants, weren’t eligible for checks in the first two rounds. Democrats have argued that undocumented U.S. residents should be eligible for relief if they pay taxes through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, a tax processing number only available for certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents who can’t get a Social Security number. It’s unclear whether they would qualify under Biden’s proposal.Will local governments get more aid?Biden would invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program, which will work with states, tribes and territories to get Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. It also would provide $50 billion to help schools and local governments put testing protocols in place, along with enabling the purchase of rapid tests and expansion of lab capacity.”The vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said.Indian Country would also receive $20 billion in Biden’s plan to assist tribal governments’ efforts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Would eviction moratoriums be extended? The measure would include $25 billion in rental assistance for struggling Americans and an extension of the nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of September. It is currently set to expire at the end of January.