When Pres. Joe Biden signed the America Rescue Plan into law Friday, it did much more than just send $1,400 checks to Americans.
During a call with Oregon journalists Friday, Sen. Jeff Merkley said the law will help the country recover from a year of turmoil, pain and lockdowns due to COVID-19.
“It’s a massive $1.9 trillion bill and one of the most transformative pieces of legislation since the New Deal,” Merkley said. “This will get America back on its feet.”
During the call, Merkley was joined by several Oregonians who touted aspects of the bill.
Curry County Commissioner Court Boice said the bill will make a big difference in rural Oregon.
“The America Rescue Plan is most welcome legislation,” Boice said. “I believe the work is good enough it could ultimately unite all Oregonians.”
Boice said money set aside for Oregon, totaling $5.8 billion, will make a big difference in smaller counties. He especially touted the fact the money will be sent directly to counties, rather than having it filter through the state.
“This time, our COVID relief is coming directly to the counties, where people trust us,” Boice said. “the funds are fair, they’re equitable based on population. I’d like to note rural Oregon does not keep Senator Merkley in business, and he never ignores our needs.”
Jim Doherty, a commissioner in Morrow County, agreed.
“One of the key things that is so special in this is the direct funding,” he said. “One size doesn’t fit all. What might fit for one county, won’t fit here.”
Markley said the changes in the bill, like direct funding to counties, came about because leaders like Boice and Doherty reached out.
“Your feedback on the first round was this didn’t work so well, can you do better,” Merkley said. “We listened.”
Miriam Cummins with Casa Latinos Unidas said the legislation will help improve vaccinations in minority communities, like the ones her organization works with.
“With the new funding coming in, this will ensure individuals, especially in communities of color, will receive the vaccine,” Cummins said. “The funds will also allow partnerships with the focus of vaccine distribution. This will help ensure the message will get to people in their family language.”
Katy Brooks with the Bend Chamber of Commerce said the legislation will be a lifesaver for local businesses.
“This package will get them over the hump,” she said. “It’s won’t make them whole, but it will keep them going. This piece of legislation and actual real money will get us over the hump.”
Brooks said elements regarding childcare will be especially helpful as students return to school and parents go back to work.
“There are a number of different programs that impact small business and a number that impact childcare,” Merkley said. “This is really a dramatic assist for the coming year.”
One element Merkley pointed to was a change in the child tax credit. He said low-income families will receive a tax credit of $300 per month for up to three children, beginning in June.
“For lower-income and middle-income, this is a huge bonus for the rest of the year,” he said.
While the COVID battle is not yet finished, Merkley said the end is coming. He pointed to an announcement by Biden on Thursday that all Americans should be able to receive a vaccination in May. If that plays out, Biden said the Fourth of July could be a real reason to celebrate this year.
“That light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter,” Merkley said.