The AFL-CIO and its affiliates (including the SIU) are pointing out the many facets of the American Rescue Plan, signed March 11 by President Biden on his fiftieth day in office, that will benefit union members, their families and their communities.
The $1.9 trillion federal legislation is designed to help the nation recover by providing financial relief in various forms due to the year-long coronavirus pandemic.
“For months, we have demanded that our federal government provide a road map out of the pandemic and the economic crisis,” stated AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The American Rescue Plan is that road map.
“It expands health care for unemployed workers, provides meaningful investment in frontline public services, ensures pension relief for millions of retirees, and it funds the vaccine so that we can end the pandemic. The bill will rescue our economy,” Trumka added.
“This measure will allow millions of Americans to breathe a little easier,” SIU President Michael Sacco said. “These have been very tough times. But this bill will help so many people who might have been wondering if they could keep their job, provide shelter and food for their family, or retire in dignity.”
“This nation has suffered too much for much too long,” noted President Biden. “And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail.”
The most recognized item in the plan is the immediate $1,400 stimulus check for people who earned less than $75,000 or for married couples who made less than $150,000 combined last year. It extends pandemic-related unemployment assistance through September 6. But the American Rescue Plan contains so much more to help workers and their families, according to the AFL-CIO.
It provides money for the production of vaccines, medical supplies and personal protective equipment. It allows dollars for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, vaccine distribution, and acquisition of vaccines and supplies.
It funds workplace safety through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for meat processors, health care facilities and correctional institutions.
It offers funding for state, county, local and tribal governments to continue needed operations such as police, fire and rescue services among others. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees declared, “These funds will keep public employees on the front lines, providing services needed to crush the virus and rebuild our economy.”
The plan included provisions from the SIU-backed Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act to support struggling multiemployer pension programs through 2051 with no cuts to accrued benefits.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson pointed out, “Including the Butch Lewis Act language will change lives. I am proud that President Biden made this one of his first priorities.”
Dollars will be available to reopen public schools and provide materials needed to do so safely. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, “This plan is quite literally a lifeline for the economy that desperately needs one. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have lost more than a half a million jobs in public education and more than 100,000 jobs in health care. This is what government looks like when it takes swift action to care for all of us.” The measure offers 100 percent COBRA subsidies for up to six months for health care premiums to those who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
It provides relief for the airline industries and manufacturers to help with payroll and benefits. Local transportation agencies, as well as Amtrak, will get aid for operating expenses. Additionally, it creates an emergency federal employee leave fund to allow civilian employees and postal workers up to 15 weeks of emergency paid leave while caring for someone with COVID-19 or watching over children during virtual classes. This also includes workers at the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The plan extends the Payroll Protection Program to help businesses keep workers employed and adds a new program aimed at restaurants. It funds a rapid retraining program for military veterans who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, and provides assistance for housing to prevent evictions and foreclosures.