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Here’s what’s in the House Democrats’ stimulus relief plan



By Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco, CNN
Updated 5:18 PM ET, Fri February 19, 2021

(CNN) — A key House committee on Friday released the Democrats’ massive coronavirus relief package, pulling together President Joe Biden’s stimulus proposal into a 591-page bill.

The House Budget Committee is expected to consider the legislation, which is based off measures approved by at least nine committees, on Monday. Most of them — but not all — adhere closely to what Biden outlined in his $1.9 trillion relief proposal last month.
The full House may pass the legislation as soon as next week, but it could face hurdles in the Senate, where Democrats can’t afford to lose a single member of their party thanks to the 50-50 split in the chamber. Already, two Democrats — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have voiced opposition to one element of the plan, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Time is of the essence. An estimated 11.4 million workers will lose their unemployment benefits between mid-March and mid-April unless Congress passes its next coronavirus relief package in coming weeks, a recent study by The Century Foundation found.
Here’s what’s in the bill:

Stimulus checks

The House bill would provide direct payments worth up to $1,400 per person. A family of four could receive up to $5,600.
Individuals earning less than $75,000 a year and married couples earning less than $150,000 would be sent the full amount.
But not everyone who received a previous stimulus check would be eligible for this round. The payments would phase out faster and completely cut off individuals earning more than $100,000 and families earning more than $200,000.
The payment will be calculated based on either 2019 or 2020 income. Unlike the previous two rounds, adult dependents would be eligible for the payments.

Unemployment assistance

The House bill would extend two key pandemic unemployment programs through August 29. It would also increase the federal weekly boost to $400, from the current $300, and continue it for the same time period.
It would lengthen the duration of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to up to 74 weeks, from 50 weeks, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to 48 weeks, from 24 weeks.
The former provides benefits to freelancers, gig workers, independent contracts and certain people affected by the pandemic, while the latter increases the duration of payments for those in the traditional state unemployment system.
The President’s plan had called for continuing the benefits through the end of September.
Out-of-work Americans will start running out of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits in mid-March, when provisions in December’s $900 billion relief package begin phasing out.
The $300 enhancement also ends in mid-March.

Nutrition assistance

The House plan would extend the 15% increase in food stamp benefits through September, instead of having it expire at the end of June.
It also contains $880 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, to help increase participation and temporarily improve benefits, among other measures. Biden called for investing $3 billion in the program.
And it would allow states to continue the Pandemic-EBT, which provides families whose children’s schools are closed with funding to replace free- and reduced-price meals the kids would have received, through the summer.

Housing aid

The legislation would send roughly $19.1 billion to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent, rent assistance and utility bills.
About $10 billion would be authorized to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages, utilities and property taxes.
It would provide another $5 billion to help states and localities assist those at risk of experiencing homelessness.

Tax credits for families and workers

The legislation beefs up tax credits for families and certain low-income workers for 2021.
In an effort to combat poverty, it would expand the child tax credit to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children under age 18.
The credit would also become fully refundable so more low-income parents could take advantage of it. Plus, families could receive payments monthly, rather than a lump sum once a year, which would make it easier for them to pay the bills.
The bill also enhances the earned income tax credit for workers without children by nearly tripling the maximum credit and extending eligibility to more people. The minimum age to claim the childless credit would be reduced to 19, from 25, and the upper age limit would be eliminated.
This would be the largest expansion to earned income tax credit since 2009.

Optional paid sick and family leave

Unlike Biden’s proposal, the House bill would not reinstate mandatory paid family and sick leave approved in a previous Covid relief package. But it does continue to provide tax credits to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the benefit through October 1.
Last year, Congress guaranteed many workers two weeks pay if they contracted Covid or were quarantining. It also provided an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to those who were staying home with kids whose schools were closed. Those benefits expired in December.

Education and child care

The bill would provide nearly $130 billion to K-12 schools to help students return to the classroom. Schools would be allowed to use the money to update their ventilation systems, reduce class sizes to help implement social distancing, buy personal protective equipment and hire support staff. It would require that schools use at least 20% of the money to address learning loss by providing extended days or summer school, for example.
The money is also intended to help prevent teacher layoffs next year when some states may be struggling to balance their budgets. The pot of money will remain available through September 2023.
The Democratic bill is in line with what Biden proposed, but calls for more than six times the amount of funding for K-12 schools than a compromise plan offered by a small group of Republican senators.
The House bill now includes nearly $40 billion for colleges. Institutions would be required to spend at least half the money to provide emergency financial aid grants to students.
Altogether, $170 billion would be authorized for K-12 schools and higher education. Last year, Congress approved a total $112 billion between two relief packages that went to K-12 schools and colleges.
The bill would also provide $39 billion to child care providers. The amount a provider receives would be based on operating expenses and is available to pay employees and rent, help families struggling to pay the cost, and purchase personal protective equipment and other supplies.

Health insurance subsidies and Medicaid

The bill would make federal premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies more generous and would eliminate the maximum income cap for two years.
Enrollees would pay no more than 8.5% of their income towards coverage, down from nearly 10% now. Also, those earning more than the current cap of 400% of the federal poverty level — about $51,000 for an individual and $104,800 for a family of four in 2021 — would become eligible for help.
In addition, the legislation would bolster subsidies for lower-income enrollees, eliminating their premiums completely, and would do the same for those collecting unemployment benefits in 2021.
The bill would also provide assistance for those who want to remain on their employer health insurance plans through COBRA. These laid-off workers would pay only 15% of the premium through the end of September, though that can still prove costly.
Also, the legislation seeks to entice states that have yet to expand Medicaid to low-income adults to do so by boosting their federal Medicaid matching funds by 5 percentage points for two years.

More money for small businesses

The bill would provide $15 billion to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program, which provides long-term, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. Severely impacted small businesses with fewer than 10 workers will be given priority for some of the money.
It also provides $25 billion for a new grant program specifically for bars and restaurants. Eligible businesses may receive up to $10 million and can use the money for a variety of expenses, including payroll, mortgage and rent, utilities and food and beverages.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which is currently taking applications for second-round loans, would get an additional $7 billion and the bill would make more non-profit organizations eligible.
Another $175 million would be used for outreach and promotion, creating a Community Navigator Program to help target eligible businesses.

Aid to states

The House legislation would provide $350 billion to state and local governments, as well as tribes and territories.
States and the District of Columbia would receive $195.3 billion, while local governments would be sent $130.2 billion to be divided evenly between cities and counties. Tribes would get $20 billion and territories $4.5 billion.
Additional assistance to states has been among the most controversial elements of the congressional rescue packages, with Democrats looking to add to the $150 billion in the March legislation and Republicans resisting such efforts. The December package ultimately dropped an initial call to include $160 billion.

Vaccines and testing

The House bill provides $14 billion to research, develop, distribute, administer and strengthen confidence in vaccines. It would also put $46 billion towards testing, contact tracing and mitigation, including investing in laboratory capacity, community-based testing sites and mobile testing units, particularly in medically underserved areas.
It would also allocate $7.6 billion to hire 100,000 public health workers to support coronavirus response.
The President’s plan called for investing $20 billion in a national vaccination program.

Minimum wage

The legislation would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 in stages. It would also guarantee that tipped workers, youth workers and workers with disabilities are paid the full federal minimum wage.
The plan would raise the wages of 27 million workers, according to the Budget Committee.


Biden to take first limited steps on gun control, including on ‘ghost guns’ and pistol braces



By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Updated 10:57 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

(CNN) — President Joe Biden will take his first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official.

The steps — which also include nominating a gun control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — fulfill a commitment Biden made in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last month to take “common sense” steps right away to address gun violence.
But they fall short of the sweeping actions Biden promised as a candidate that must be passed by Congress, including a ban on assault weapons or enacting universal background checks. Senior administration officials framed the upcoming announcements as initial steps that would be followed by additional actions later on, including applying pressure on lawmakers to act.
    Biden said last month following a mass shooting in Colorado, “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.” But he has acknowledged that passing a massive new infrastructure plan — and not new gun laws — is his top legislative priority.
      Biden will make the announcements Thursday from the White House alongside his attorney general, Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department will be responsible for drafting the proposed rules.
          The announcements will come as the President is expected to nominate David Chipman as the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a White House official told CNN. Chipman is a former ATF agent who serves as senior policy adviser at Giffords, the organization led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who became a gun control advocate after being shot in 2011.
          The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
          Biden also plans to announce new investments in intervention programs in violence-prone communities; a directive to the Justice Department to publish model “red flag” laws for states that allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others; and a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking.
          Taken together, the actions amount to the first real steps by Biden’s administration to combat gun violence. Inside the White House, efforts to devise executive actions have been led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond, administration officials and gun safety advocacy groups told CNN.
          That included meeting with some of those groups and fielding ideas for steps that Biden could take on his own. Some advocates had been clamoring for steps earlier in the administration, pointing to Biden’s pledge to prioritize gun control during his campaign.
          But initial reaction from gun safety advocacy groups Wednesday evening was positive.
          “Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
          “These much-needed executive actions will start saving lives right away, and our grassroots army of nearly 6 million supporters looks forward to standing behind President Biden as he urges the Senate to follow his lead and act,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.
          While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.
          Following last month’s shootings, Biden called on Congress to take steps like reenacting an assault weapons ban, with Vice President Kamala Harris, who argued for executive actions on the campaign trail, telling “CBS This Morning” that “if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.”
          The Democratic-controlled House passed gun legislation that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales last month, but the bills face tougher paths in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority and would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.
          Biden acknowledged during a news conference that his main legislative priority was passing an infrastructure package and that he believed careful timing was key to the success of any proposed bills.
          And he has acknowledged that his political capital is limited.
          “I haven’t done any counting yet,” he said in March when asked whether he believed he had enough votes to pass significant reforms.
          As the nation’s posture on guns has evolved, Biden has been front-and-center at most every stop along the way for more than three decades, from the triumph of a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994 to the disappointment of a failed push for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
            Recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado had raised the question inside the West Wing over how much political capital Biden should expend on the matter, which has so often ended in frustration.
            This story has been updated with details about Biden’s executive actions and reaction to them.

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            Virginia lawmakers OK marijuana possession starting July 1



            By Paul LeBlanc and Kay Jones, CNN
            Updated 9:45 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

            (CNN) — The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill legalizing simple possession of marijuana, becoming the latest state to modify its laws around cannabis use and possession that disproportionately jailed Black people for nonviolent offenses.

            The new law, which goes into effect July 1, allows anyone in the state 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The law also “modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana, and imposes limits on dissemination of criminal history record information related to certain marijuana offenses,” according to a summary posted to the Legislature’s website.
            “Virginia led and made history once again today,” Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who cast the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, said in a tweet.
              “I was proud to cast the tie-breaking vote to legalize marijuana and bring long overdue justice, fairness, equity and opportunity to the people of our great Commonwealth.”
                The bill had originally passed in late February, but Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sent it back to the Legislature with a series of revisions, including a proposal to accelerate the timeline of its enactment to this July instead of 2024.
                    Still, the measure was met with fierce opposition from state GOP lawmakers Wednesday, including Del. Chris Head, who called it a “train wreck” during a virtual House floor speech.
                    “If this policy change is to be undertaken, it has to be undertaken prudently, and I understand the enormous pressure on the majority party to make this change right now. I understand that opposing immediate legislation and legalization is going to anger many of your constituents. And I understand that taking the time to do this right might possibly even lead to charges of racism,” he said.
                    “But we have to do this right. And doing it right takes time.”
                    Legalization advocates have long touted the righting of past criminal justice wrongs, eliminating illegal market activity and generating additional tax revenue when they’ve pushed for overhauling state cannabis laws.
                    “At the end of the day, economics talk and jobs talk,” Jessica Billingsley, chief executive officer of Akerna, which makes regulatory compliance software that helps states track cannabis sales from seed to sale, previously told CNN.
                      “I truly believe we’re going to see some very meaningful and important movement coming out of this as states and governors look for a way to bolster their economy.”
                      Cannabis sales in states that have legalized the plant for medical and recreational purposes totaled about $15 billion in 2019, and are expected to top $30 billion by 2024, according to data from BDS Analytics, which tracks dispensary sales.

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                      Biden’s planned pick for ATF director a fierce advocate for gun control



                      By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
                      Updated 9:30 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                      Washington (CNN) — David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s planned nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has a long history at the agency and sports credentials in gun control advocacy sure to excite firearm safety groups.

                      If confirmed, Chipman will lead the agency that enforces gun laws at a critical point in Biden’s early tenure, as the President looks to take fresh action on the issue in the wake of two deadly shootings last month.
                      “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said last month. The President plans to announce new executive actions on guns Thursday, a person familiar with the plans said.

                        Longtime ATF special agent

                          Chipman, if confirmed, would return to the agency where he worked for 25 years as a special agent.
                            He lists “Violent Crime Reduction Strategist,” “Certified Explosives Specialist” and “Interagency Liason Specialist” among his specialties on his Linkedin profile, and Giffords notes his expertise includes ghost guns, the gun industry, law enforcement and assault weapons.
                            In the President’s first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, Biden will direct his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official. Ghost guns are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers, and some can be fabricated in as little as 30 minutes using kits and parts purchased online.
                            The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
                            In recent years, the bureau has become most visible in the aftermath of mass shootings around the US and at other crimes involving firearms. But the agency has a broader scope than just guns.
                            According to its website, ATF “protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.”
                            “We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology,” the bureau’s website states.

                            Gun control advocacy

                            After leaving the ATF in 2012, Chipman became a senior adviser at Everytown for Gun Safety, where he was “consulted frequently” by lawmakers considering gun control legislation, according to his Linkedin.
                            Chipman then served as senior vice president of Public Safety Solutions for almost three years before arriving at Giffords as a senior policy adviser in 2016.
                            It’s in these roles that Chipman’s voice as a fierce advocate for gun control was elevated, as he frequently wrote op-eds and made media appearances to advance the cause.
                            “As a former ATF special agent with more than 24 years of experience at the bureau, I know all too well how serious our gun violence problem is and how desperately the agency lacks for the law enforcement tools that are necessary to help curb this national epidemic,” Chipman wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed.
                            The country’s gun safety laws, he wrote at the time, “make it all too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands — and since Congress has failed to address these gaps legislatively, ATF must chart a new course to combat the scourge of gun violence. This requires strong leadership.”
                            More recently, Chipman voiced support for limiting high-capacity magazines in a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour.
                            “Talking to any gun owner, a 100-round magazine is just not traditional. It’s not normal. And I can’t think of a purpose, beyond killing a lot of people, for having it,” he said. “So if the debate is, should it be 10 or what have you, it can’t be 100. And so I think there’s room where we can have progress, although we will not have perfection.”
                              And in light of FBI records last summer showing US firearm background checks having skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Chipman told CNN at the time: “My biggest concern involves the potential number of first time gun buyers who, before March, did not think they needed a gun.”
                              This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.

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                              Andrew Giuliani, former Trump aide and son of Rudy Giuliani, says he plans for to run for governor of New York



                              By Devan Cole, CNN
                              Updated 12:16 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                              Washington (CNN) — Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says he’s planning to run for governor of the heavily Democratic state next year.

                              “I plan to run,” Andrew Giuliani, who served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner in an interview published Wednesday.
                              Giuliani’s gubernatorial bid could set up a high stakes, headline-grabbing showdown with Andrew Cuomo, should the embattled incumbent Democratic governor decide to seek a fourth term. But Giuliani would face a steep uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state, and his candidacy could help hand another win to the party as his proximity to Trump would likely be seen as a liability in a state where the former President is widely unpopular.
                                “I believe I can win the race,” Giuliani told the Examiner. “I think I’m the right candidate, and this is the right time to help change New York State, and we’ve got a playbook that works.”
                                  “Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there’s an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate, whether it’s going to be Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, whether it’s going to be a radical (attorney general), Letitia James, whether it’s going to be a no-name lieutenant governor, I think there’s a very, very real chance to win,” he said, according to the magazine.
                                        Asked if he expected Cuomo to seek reelection to a fourth term next year, Jay Jacobs, the state party chair and a close ally of the governor, demurred.
                                        “I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I think that he’s more focused on getting through his current troubles, then seeing where he’s going to go,” he said. “These investigations are going to be critical in all of that. It’s hard to tell. I’m sure that, given his druthers, he’d like to run for reelection.”

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                                        Stephen Breyer worries about Supreme Court’s public standing in current political era



                                        By Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst & Supreme Court biographer
                                        Updated 9:07 PM ET, Tue April 6, 2021

                                        (CNN) — Justice Stephen Breyer, who may be nearing the end of his Supreme Court tenure, expressed concern on Tuesday about the standing of the high court and the possible erosion of public confidence in its decisions.

                                        In an expansive, two-hour lecture at Harvard Law School, Breyer bemoaned the common practice — by journalists, senators and others — of referring to justices by the presidents who appointed them and of describing the nine by their conservative or liberal approach to the law.
                                        “These are more than straws in the wind,” the 82-year-old Breyer said. “They reinforce the thought, likely already present in the reader’s mind, that Supreme Court justices are primarily political officials or ‘junior league’ politicians themselves rather than jurists. The justices tend to believe that differences among judges mostly reflect not politics but jurisprudential differences. That is not what the public thinks.”
                                          Breyer also warned against proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court from its current nine members. Public trust was “gradually built” over the centuries, he said, and any discussion of change should take account of today’s public acceptance of the court’s rulings, even those as controversial as the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled a presidential election.
                                            “The public now expects presidents to accept decisions of the court, including those that are politically controversial,” he said. “The court has become able to impose a significant check — a legal check — upon the Executive’s actions in cases where the Executive strongly believes it is right.”
                                              Some of Breyer’s most compelling opinions, it should be noted, have been written in dissent. In 2007, for example, he objected to an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts rejecting school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville. Roberts said districts could not consider a student’s race when making school assignments to reduce racial isolation throughout the school district.
                                              “This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret,” wrote Breyer, whose father, Irving Breyer, was a long-serving school board member in San Francisco. Breyer still wears the wristwatch his father received upon his retirement from the district. Breyer said the Roberts opinion threatened “the promise of” the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
                                              Breyer said Tuesday that differences with his colleagues were based on their distinct views of the structure of the Constitution or how they interpreted statutes. He did not refer to instances in which his colleagues themselves have publicly questioned each other’s motives.
                                                Breyer did allow that sometimes justices weigh public opinion or the future ramifications of a decision. And he acknowledged that the nine are products of their individual backgrounds and experiences.
                                                Still, he said, “judicial philosophy is not a code word for ‘politics.'”

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