March 16, 2021 2:38 PM

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The American Rescue Plan, which President Biden signed into law on day 50 of his Presidency, is unquestionably one of the most momentous, complex, and difficult achievements by any new administration in U.S. history. It will very likely be credited by historians as the crucial action that saved our country from a seemingly hopeless crisis.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to the President, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and every single Democrat in Congress for taking the bold steps necessary to save our country from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic,” commented HTC President Rich Maroko. He added, “Likewise, we will never forget that every single Republican Representative and Senator voted against providing relief to laid off workers, against funding vaccination efforts, and against giving schools and municipalities the funds they need to reopen. Their callousness to the suffering of the American people is unforgivable.”

For the last year, Americans have lived in fear, isolation, and despair. The pandemic triggered the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, throwing millions of us, including the vast majority of our members, out of work. Over 500,000 of us, family members, friends and coworkers, perished alone and in agony. In the face of these horrors, the Republican-controlled federal government failed us all dismally, and not merely by their pathetic incompetence. They actively and deliberately stalled and blocked all efforts by the Democrats to get relief to the American people.

So our Union acted to meet the crisis. We won over $350 million in emergency funding from the employers to provide our laid off members with between 8 and 12 additional months of health benefits, which in most cases lasted until the end of 2020. When the Trump administration cut off enhanced unemployment, we were able to extract another $500 million from the hotel and casino industries to supplement members’ unemployment in bridge payments based on the severance pay provisions of our contract. No other hotel or casino union in the country has been able to get so much emergency relief money from the employers. But it is not an exaggeration to say that American workers, including us, have been desperately hanging on by our fingertips. The only thing that saved us is Joe Biden’s victory in November and the surprise Democratic wins in the two Georgia Senate races in January.

Even with Joe Biden in the White House, the Democrats had the slimmest conceivable majority, with the Vice President casting a tie-breaking vote. So it was not a foregone conclusion that they would be able to pass a relief bill on the scale that was needed, and it is a testament to the masterful leadership of Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and the patriotism and the courage of the Democrats in Congress that they were able to pass it.

Let’s be clear: the American Rescue Plan is more than a relief bill. It is a comprehensive plan to rebuild our economy and it is the largest investment by the federal government in working people in our nation’s history. In short, it is the lifeline we desperately needed. Here are just some of the highlights of this historic $1.9 trillion plan.

#1 - Laid off workers can stay on the Union’s healthcare for free

When our employer-funded healthcare extension ended, very few members could afford to pay the cost to continue their normal health coverage under COBRA. That’s one of the reasons we had to temporarily close the Harlem and Brooklyn health centers, and many members ended up having to get lower quality health insurance or are going without any coverage now.

The Democrats’ American Rescue Plan solves that problem. Under this law, the federal government will now pay 100% of the cost of COBRA for laid off workers for the next six months, from April 1st through September 30th.

This means that our laid off members and their families, nearly 90,000 people, can return to using our Union’s health centers, for free. It also means that we will be able to reopen the Brooklyn and Harlem health centers, which had to temporarily close in January. Our Benefit Funds are waiting for more details from the federal government. Once we have instructions for how to sign up for COBRA, we will publish the details on our website. Until then, please DO NOT contact the Benefit Funds or visit the Funds’ office to inquire about subsidized COBRA.

This provision of the law, which is vital to our Union’s members, was the work of New York’s own Senator, Chuck Schumer. Our Union helped Senator Schumer to understand how important it was to include in the American Rescue Plan. Click here to read this interesting story.

#2 - $300-a-week unemployment benefits are extended through September 6th

The extra $300-a-week in unemployment benefits is extended for 25 more weeks, until September 6, 2021.

Until now, the supplemental unemployment benefit has repeatedly stopped, stalled, and been reinstated for short durations, causing laid off workers to suffer unnecessary stress and worry. This reliable, secure extension of unemployment benefits comes just in nick of time as many are running out of severance pay.

Additionally, the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020 will be exempt from taxation for individuals making less than $150,000.

#3 - Another stimulus check

Individuals making less than $75,000 a year (and joint-filers who make less than $150,000) will receive another stimulus check. 85% of American households will receive the $1,400 check ($2,800 for joint-filers), plus an extra $1,400 for each dependent.

#4 – Tax breaks for workers

For the first time in decades, working people – not the rich – will get the benefit of significant tax breaks. These credits will be paid out in monthly installments. Combined, they translate into several hundred dollars each month for a family with two young kids.

#5 – Getting kids back into school

The bill also provides the funding and the operation needed to safely reopen our schools for in-person learning. The American Rescue Plan will pay to start vaccinating all our teachers, childcare professionals, and other school employees by the end of the month and it gives K-12 schools $130 billion to increase COVID-19 testing and make critical operational changes.

#6 – Defeating the virus

Unlike his predecessor, President Biden has understood from the beginning that the only way to come out of this disaster is to beat the virus, not to pretend that it is a hoax. Since taking office just 50 days ago, the Biden Administration has built a massive national program to vaccinate Americans. This legislation provides the funding that program needs to run efficiently and will eliminate critical supply shortages, increase our testing capacity, pay for research on the new COVID strains, and fund efforts to find more effective treatments against this virus.

#7 – Saving the states, counties, cities, and towns

States and municipalities all over the country, both red and blue, are going broke because they have been forced to do the job that the federal government shirked. This means every vital public service including police, fire, EMS, and teachers would be drastically cut without emergency federal help. The American Rescue Plan will provide state and local governments with the resources they need, including $6 billion for New York City.

Not to be overlooked, the bill also invests billions of dollars in improving public transit ($30.5 billion), expanding food assistance programs to help the growing numbers of hungry Americans ($12 billion), and providing emergency rent relief ($21.6 billion) and housing relief ($10 billion.)

“Over the last year, this pandemic has taken the lives of more than half a million Americans and thrown our economy into chaos. On a personal level, we have endured unbearable loneliness, grief, anxiety, and fear. We have had precious little hope” said HTC President Rich Maroko. “I am very sincere in saying that this accomplishment, the passage of the American Rescue Plan, gives me hope that we are turning the corner, and that we can finally start looking forward with anticipation instead of dread.”

Click here to see how your elected representatives voted on the American Rescue Plan.