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D.C. Memo: What a relief

You get a stimulus! And YOU get a stimulus! Congress passes a huge COVID relief package, COVID anniversaries and more.

photo of house speaker nancy pelosi giving a thumbs up
The House passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Wednesday, a sweeping stimulus package that secures the first major legislative win for President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign the bill on Friday.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Welcome to the D.C. Memo, and hello from Ashley Hackett, your new Washington correspondent! Here’s what you need to know about me: I am a born-and-raised Minnesotan who now lives in D.C. fairly close to the U.S. Capitol. Growing up I lived in the Oakdale/Woodbury area, and have many great childhood memories of attending Twins games at the Metrodome (R.I.P.), going cross country skiing at Lake Elmo park reserve, and participating in every aspect of summer “lake life.” I am very excited to take over this memo from Gregg Aamot, and I look forward to hearing from our wonderful readers.

Speaking of our wonderful readers, the generosity of members makes it possible for MinnPost to be one of just two Minnesota publications to have a reporter in D.C. covering our delegation. If you’d like to help support this work, donate here.

Here’s what’s in store for this week: Congress passes the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, COVID anniversaries and more.

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Congress passes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package

The House passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Wednesday, a sweeping stimulus package that secures the first major legislative win for President Joe Biden, who signed the bill Thursday night.

Members of the House of Representatives voted 220-to-211, almost entirely along party lines. The Minnesota delegation followed suit: Democratic Reps. Dean Phillips, Ilhan Omar, Angie Craig, and Betty McCollum voted in favor of the stimulus package, while Republican Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach, and Pete Stauber voted against the bill.

The American Rescue Plan authorizes another round of stimulus payments — this time up to $1,400 — for most Americans. The bill also extends enhanced unemployment aid and changes aspects of the tax code to benefit families with children. Democrats have called the American Rescue Plan one of the most robust legislative responses to poverty in a generation, and claim that they’ve taken measures to bring a significant proportion of Americans — especially children — out of poverty.

An Urban Institute analysis found that the stimulus package will lift more than 52% of children out of poverty, with the $1,400 stimulus checks and the child tax credit doing most of the leg work.

Lawmakers also designated tens of billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing, contact tracing, and vaccine deployment. Biden has promised Americans that there will be enough vaccines for “every adult in America” as soon as May 1.

The $1.9 trillion relief package is distributed among state, local and tribal governments, and the projected lump sum reserved for Minnesota sits at nearly $4.9 billion. Of that sum, it’s projected that $0.59 billion will go to metro cities, $1.1 billion to counties, and $0.42 billion to other non-counties. The remaining money is set to go towards the state government and other state capital projects.

Republicans, including all four of Minnesota’s House members, opposed the bill on Wednesday. Stauber said in a press release that “the Democrats chose to exploit this crisis to advance their own partisan agenda.” The GOP generally criticized the bill for pushing forward a list of left-wing priorities that may not deal directly with coronavirus relief.

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Remnants of the January 6 insurrection

Rep. Ilhan Omar spoke with NPR’s Steve Inskeep Thursday morning about the working relationship she has with the 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to Biden’s election.

“It’s a fractured relationship,” Omar told Inskeep. “There is a lot of mistrust among lawmakers, you know, a lot of conversations about even voting for bills that are sponsored by those who objected to a functioning democracy. It’s really hard being there.”

Reflecting on the frightening event in January, Omar said the day “left a dark cloud” over Congress.

Indeed, cooperation across the aisle may become more difficult as the Biden presidency continues: The American Rescue Plan passed with only Democratic votes. This, coupled with tensions still lingering after January 6 and impeachment proceedings, could result in a difficult road ahead for any bipartisan efforts.

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Finally, some guidance

Americans have been receiving COVID-19 vaccines since late last year, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released post-vaccine guidance. According to the CDC, a person is considered fully vaccinated:

  • Two weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series (like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines), OR
  • Two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (like Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine)

Once someone’s fully vaccinated, they aren’t totally in the clear — but here are some things the CDC says are acceptable:

  • Gathering indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask, and
  • Gathering indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC still advises wearing a mask in public and avoiding public gatherings.

COVID Anniversaries

On March 8, 2020, I went to a packed comedy show where comedians made tentative jokes about wearing plastic gloves on airplanes to avoid catching this new virus. Three days later — a year ago Thursday — I was sick in bed with all the symptoms of COVID-19. That was the “aha moment” for me that life would not be the same.

This week marks the year “anniversary” of the end of life as we knew it for many Americans. The first COVID-19 case in Minnesota was confirmed on March 6, 2020. A year later, Gov Tim Walz announced that over 1 million Minnesota residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Gov.Walz declared a state of emergency for Minnesota on March 13, 2020, shuttering many businesses for the foreseeable future. Despite the milestone vaccination news, Minnesota is still not quite in the clear: State and local health officials reported a “rapidly growing” outbreak of the U.K. COVID-19 variant in Carver County, tied to youth sports.

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Biden gets social with… microgreens?

Ice cream. Dogs. Jeans. These are a few of the things I associate with Joe Biden, but until recently I never thought I’d hear “President Biden” and “microgreens” in the same sentence. On March 9, Biden dropped by a woman-owned microgreens farm called “Little Wild Things Farm” in Northeast D.C. as part of a visit to support small businesses that have benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

D.C. residents have already noticed the difference in community outreach between Biden and former President Trump, who was rarely spotted around the city in his four years in office. D.C. Reddit pages and residents on Twitter have begun to attempt to track Biden’s whereabouts in hopes of snagging a selfie with the new President .

ICYMI, don’t forget to catch up on these MinnPost reads

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can always reach me at ahackett@minnpost.com or on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.