White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki discusses with WBTV News $1.9T American Recovery Plan

Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 7:59 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is on the verge of becoming law.

The bill needs final approval from the House before being signed off by President Biden. Votes are expected Tuesday.

That could all be completed this week.

As the COVID-19 relief aid is nearing completion, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke with WBTV News On Your Side Anchor Jamie Boll on Monday.

The relief package, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans, narrowly passed the Senate, 50-49, right down party lines.

Here is how it would be distributed:

  • 22 percent of the money would go directly to many Americans in the form of $1,400 stimulus payments.
  • 13 percent would go to pay for extended unemployment benefits.
  • 12 percent would help with health care costs, Cobra and Affordable Care Act subsidies, as well as nutrition assistance -- grants to small businesses as well the airlines who have avoided layoffs.
  • About 9 percent goes to vaccines, testing and medical equipment, as well as child care for essential workers.
  • 27 percent would go to state and local governments - Some go to schools, some go to make up for budget revenue losses blamed on the pandemic.

Passage would be the first big legislative win for the Biden Administration.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told WBTV that while the administration wanted bipartisan support, they are excited to sign the bill into law.

“We’re on track to sign into law, a $1.9 trillion package that’s sure going to get a lot of relief to the people of North Carolina,” Psaki said. “Of course, we would have preferred for it to be a bipartisan package and the president leaves the door open to working with Republicans moving forward. But he wasn’t going to allow that those negotiations delayed in getting relief out to the American people.”

Here’s what Psaki told WBTV about the COVID_19 relief package, vaccinations and when we will get back to “normalcy”:

WBTV: There been some estimates that showed that about 15% of this plan is for policy priorities that are not COVID-19 related. Why put those in this bill?

Psaki: Well, it’s always a negotiation, right? In order to get a bill passed. But I would say our estimates are that more than 90% are committed to and dedicated to getting direct checks to the American people, to people in North Carolina to ensuring that people of North Carolina and states across the country are not cutoff.

(Giving) Unemployment insurance to reopening schools and to getting more vaccinations in the arms of the American people, that’s why more than 70% of the public has supported it. So that’s really what the bill is focused on.

WBTV: Senator Thom Tillis here in North Carolina voted against the plan. He is saying that there is still a trillion unspent dollars from the previous COVID-19 relief plan. Is he right?

Psaki: But those don’t numbers don’t drive with my understanding of the leftover funds. Most of the funds, if not all of them, are allocated and dedicated to programs that are still going out the door. But I will say, I don’t think anyone in North Carolina thinks that we’re at the end of this pandemic or at the end of the economic downturn, and a lot of people in the state, a lot of schools in the state need the assistance that’s in this package. And that’s why we pushed so hard for it.

WBTV: If vaccines will be available to everyone by the end of May as the president has said, presumably we’ll see some improvement in the economy, hopefully fairly quickly. There could be an argument then why not wait a little bit to a smaller package? Let’s see what we’re facing come summer.

Psaki: Well, I think most of the 10 million people in this country who were out of work would tell you they can’t wait for the direct checks.

The 11 million Americans who are almost at the end of unemployment insurance? Uh, ability to apply, would tell you they can’t wait. And if we want to reopen schools and get to a point where we’re reopening the economy, we need this money now so we can plan, so we can invest so we can take the steps now to get us through this period of time.

WBTV: On the vaccine rollout itself right now, we know there are people still reluctant to get the shot for various reasons. Now the president has said he hopes life returns to normal by the end of the year. Does that message need to be more optimistic, to give more people a reason to get the shot?

Psaki: Well, it’s such a good question. Today, the CDC put out some new guidelines that made it clear that if you have a vaccine, and your wife has a vaccine and your neighbors have a vaccine, that you can have dinner with them inside together.

Now, we realize everybody is not eligible quite yet, but in the coming months, people will be will have enough vaccines for every American, and so that incentivizes. We hope for people to get the vaccine. That’s not the reason they did it, but we’re hopeful that will be part of the impact.

WBTV: You said many times, right decisions on this pandemic can be based on science. The science is showing that in-person education can be done safely. A lot of teachers have been vaccinated, many here in North Carolina.  A lot of parents want to know why it is taking so long to get our kids back in the classroom.

Psaki: Well, it’s different from school to school and district to district.

We just put out the CDC guidelines a couple of weeks ago that has several mitigation steps schools can take, and I know a lot of school districts were waiting for them.

Teacher vaccinations are one of those steps, but there are a number of other steps schools can take to safely reopen. Schools are actually reopening around the country pretty quickly in the last few weeks where we, of course, want to get to the majority of schools reopened five days a week by the 100-day mark. We now have a Secretary of Education, and that’s going to be his primary focus.

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