House gives final OK to relief bill that will send billions to Arizona

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The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan includes tens of billions of dollars for Arizona, including money for schools, businesses, the unemployed and a $1,400 stimulus payment to most people in the state. (Photo by frankieleon/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, a sweeping pandemic relief measure that will directly touch almost every Arizonan and will send billions in federal aid to the state.

Republicans have assailed it as a wasteful, partisan measure, and that was reflected in the final House vote Wednesday, when every Republican and one Maine Democrat voted against the bill. Arizona lawmakers followed suit, splitting down party lines on the bill.

“Americans need targeted, immediate relief from COVID-19, not $1.9 trillion added to the national debt to pay for partisan wish list items and other provisions that won’t take effect until years from now,” Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

But while Lesko said the “people of Arizona and America deserve better,” supporters of the bill said it fills an urgent need.

“Our friends and loved ones have died, millions remain unemployed, our children are missing critical in-person learning opportunities and countless small businesses have shuttered,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a statement released by his office. “A crisis of this magnitude warrants an equal response, and this legislation gets our families, workers, and small businesses the relief they deserve.”

Biden signed the bill into law Thursday, clearing the way for $1,400 individual stimulus payments, increased jobless benefits, tax credits for children, school and health funding and support for businesses, among other measures.

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It’s hard to say exactly how much Arizona and its residents will get under the bill, but an initial review shows that at least $20 billion will head to the state – likely much more when all programs are accounted for.

The biggest impact will likely be in the $1,400-per-person stimulus payment, which will send about $8.5 billion directly to more than 3.1 million Arizona households, according to estimates from the Congressional Research Service.

That money will be in addition to an increase in the child tax credit, which could mean monthly payments of up to $300 per child under a change in the law that is expected to benefit as many as 1.5 million children in Arizona. A White House statement Wednesday noted that a family of four earning less than $75,000 would get $8,200 under the bill – $1,400 for each family member and an increase of $2,600 in child tax credits for the two kids.

State and local governments in Arizona will receive $7.63 billion in aid, part of the $360 billion in pandemic relief nationwide to help governments whose budgets and resources have been stretched thin by the pandemic. That includes $20 billion to help tribal governments nationwide.

Grijalva estimated that Arizona will get $2.58 billion to help K-12 schools cope with COVID-19 while the state will get another $683 million in higher education funds. And Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said the plan includes $850 million for grants to tribal colleges and universities, as well as Bureau of Indian Education-run elementary and secondary schools.

An estimated 816,000 Arizona food-stamp recipients would continue to get an additional $27 a month in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as a 15% increase in SNAP benefits would continue through September. That $66 million in additional benefits would be part of a national increase of $3.48 billion nationwide.

The bill would also continue an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits, which had been set to expire this month, through September; add $20 billion to enhance the national COVID-19 vaccination program and improve vaccine distribution; and add $50 billion in support for struggling private businesses.

One thing it does not include is a national $15-an-hour minimum wage that was included in an earlier House version of the bill. That was stripped out last week by the Senate, and the House accepted that change Wednesday.

The sheer cost of the bill angered critics like Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills. He said the funding is directed to temporary programs that do not directly address the pandemic, while adding “another $1.9 trillion of debt” to the budget.

“This $1.9 trillion spending bill has only 9% going towards actual COVID-19 health spending,” Schweikert said in a tweet. “We must focus on targeted relief to reopen our schools, businesses, and communities as soon as possible.”

But O’Halleran said now is not the time to “pump the brakes.”

“Today, we took action to get a new, strong legislative package to the finish line and deliver meaningful relief to American families, businesses, schools, and health care systems,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “With over 500,000 American lives lost to this deadly and isolating virus, now is not the time to pump the brakes.”

That echoed earlier statements from Biden, who has said the danger is not in going too big, but not going big enough. He welcomed passage of the bill, which he signed in a brief White House ceremony Thursday afternoon.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday after the House vote.

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Haleigh Kochanski expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. She is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington this spring.