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A Look At Lesser-Known Parts Of The COVID Relief Bill, From Farming To Health Care47:01
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President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 11. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 11. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Biden administration's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. We talk about the lesser-known aspects of the plan, from farming to health care.  

Guests

Lisa DesJardins, congressional correspondent for PBS NewsHour. (@LisaDNews)

Lloyd Wright, farmer and conservationist. Former director of civil rights at the USDA and former director of conservation operations for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Jonathan Cohn, senior national correspondent for HuffPost. Author of "The Ten Year War." (@CitizenCohn)

Also Featured

Rickie Roddy, farmer. He and his wife Tiffany own 400 acres in Riesel, Texas where they grow hay and raise cattle. Winner of the 2017 Lloyd Wright Small Farmer of the Year Award.

Interview Highlights

How big is the American rescue plan?

Lisa DesJardins: "This is the largest single shot of relief of any of the — not just COVID relief bills, but any relief bill in American history. So it is massive. And you take that and consider that that is after the CARES Act, which was the second largest relief bill in American history. And in addition, we had a relief bill in December, which the relief portion was also almost a trillion dollars.

"So it is a massive, sweeping bill. ... The amount of spending in this bill is more than all of the individual income taxes paid in the country in a year. That is the kind of commitment in here to dealing with the economic and health crisis, as well as other problems that Democrats put in the bill."

How did this debt relief for farmers of color get into the American rescue plan?

Lisa DesJardins: "It's something that has been a topic of conversation, especially in the House, for House Democrats for some time. The Congressional Black Caucus has been raising this for years. And there's also a separate Justice for Black Farmers Act that may move as well. This was one of those features that Democrats felt this was their chance to do it. This was the chance for some debt relief.

"They put it in the House bill. On the Senate side, it was in part led, that effort there was led by the newest senator there, Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who has very strong feelings of this. He was able to make sure that it stayed in the bill. There were attempts to take it out, but it stayed there. And this is something that I can tell you Democrats are very proud of."

Part of the American rescue plan has to do with health insurance premiums. What's in the plan? 

Jonathan Cohn: "From the very beginning of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, probably, I think the biggest weakness of it was that from people who were buying coverage on their own. So you're buying through healthcare.gov. Or if you live in Maryland, it's the Maryland Health Connection or Covered California, whatever. The idea is that you get a subsidy to offset the cost of the premiums and so that you can afford a plan. And these subsidies vary on your income. So the lower your income is, the more assistance you get, the cheaper the insurance.

"But the subsidies weren't as big as they should have been, as the architects of the bill originally wanted it. So they phased out pretty quickly as your income rose. And they cut off completely at four times the poverty line, which is about $100,000 a year for a family of four. Well, what the new COVID relief program does is it says, Alright, we're going to boost those subsidies. So if you already are eligible for assistance, you're going to get more.

"And if you are above that threshold, so you're one of those people who makes more money that  ... previously you couldn't get any financial assistance. Now you're going to be eligible for some depending on your circumstances. And this is going to have some dramatic impact. I mean, some people could save a few hundred dollars a year. There are people literally who are going to be facing these crazy high insurance premiums right now. They're going to save $15,000, $16,000, $17,000 a year."

On what the COVID relief bill tells us about Biden's goals

Lisa DesJardins: "I think he really is someone who is going big. And I think he right now is leaning toward his advisors and to Democrats in Congress who are saying, We can talk to Republicans and we know that you are friends with Republicans. He calls them. He is close with them, he has a lot of good capital with Republicans in Congress. But they are telling him, Don't waste too much time, in their view, go partisan, and that will be better for the country.

"This to Joe Biden, someone who campaigned on being bipartisan. But he's trying to redefine bipartisanship as something that a wide group of voters approve, not members of Congress. And that is being successful in this instance. But it is a risk in the future if he decides not to work with Republicans. We know the country wants bipartisan cooperation, but he seems to have learned from the past that the Obama administration didn't gain a lot from trying to work with Republicans. And so he's made a decision here."

From The Reading List

New York Times: "What’s in the Stimulus Bill? A Guide to Where the $1.9 Trillion Is Going" — "President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan would have far-reaching effects on society as the country tries to turn the corner on a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people in the United States."

Fortune: "Discrimination has become a fact of life for Black farmers—that must end" — "Washington, D.C.'s largest farmers market routinely denies spots to Black vendors, according to a Forbes report. The news, while upsetting, will come as little surprise to America's Black farmers—a group that has suffered discrimination from our nation's capital for decades."

HuffPost: "Progressives Should Be Celebrating The Senate’s COVID-19 Relief Bill" — "The concessions to secure final votes were dispiriting and, at times, infuriating. The 'vote-a-rama' that kept senators in the chamber overnight, repeatedly voting down Republican messaging amendments, was just dumb."

New York Times: "The Fight Is On to Define the Pandemic Aid Bill" — "Congressional Republicans and Democrats finally agree on something: The pandemic rescue bill President Biden signed into law on Thursday is the largest expansion of government support programs in more than 50 years. Where they differ is on whether that is good or bad."

This program aired on March 12, 2021.

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