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Biden’s team begins to sell the historic COVID relief law to the American public

A new wave of economic relief for Americans struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic is on its way, with stimulus checks beginning to hit Americans bank accounts over the weekend as part of the American Rescue Plan. Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the aid rollout and the state of the economy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new wave of economic relief for Americans struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic is on its way.

    Stimulus checks that are part of the recent COVID relief law began hitting Americans' bank accounts over the weekend. Today, at the White House, President Biden said his administration would also soon meet its first major vaccination goal.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    Over the next 10 days, we will reach two goals, two giant goals. The first is, 100 million shots in people's arms will have been completed within the next 10 days and 100 million checks in people's pockets in the next 10 days.

    Shots in arms and money in pockets, that's important. The American Rescue Plan is already doing what it was designed to do, make a difference in people's everyday lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We explore exactly when and how further relief will be distributed to Americans with Cecilia Rouse. She chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

    Cecilia Rouse, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    How quickly is the aid from this relief package going to reach people? And I'm asking because people like the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, say that the economy was already poised to take off, that this isn't really going to make that much difference.

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Oh, well, I guess I would beg to differ.

    First of all, the aid is already reaching people. The Treasury Department worked very hard to be able to distribute checks. I think already 90 million people should have already been receiving checks or will receive them this week, more to come over the following week.

    So, people are already receiving the aid. I disagree with Senator McConnell. Our economy is still suffering. Just last month, we got our employment report, and we saw that we are still 9.5 million jobs short of where we were last year this time.

    We know that over four million individuals have been unemployed for at least half of a year. We know that over four million people have completely withdrawn from the labor force.

    So, the official unemployment rate is 6.2 percent. But, really, if we were to add back in a good fraction of those who have gone out — left the labor force, it would be closer to 9 percent, maybe even as high as 10 percent.

    And we know, for some populations, even the official rate, unemployment rate, is closer to 10 percent. So, we are far from having a healthy economy. And give the depths of this recession, it's going to take us some time. Most forecasts have us back to where we were last February sometime in 2022.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you don't agree with forecasts like that of the global investment bank Goldman Sachs, which just last night was out projecting the economy is going to grow 8 percent this year, that the unemployment rate is going to be 4 percent by the end of this year, 3.5 percent next year?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    First of all, yes, we expect there to be a large increase in GDP growth, but we are starting from a lower base.

    So, therefore, when we are growing, it doesn't mean that our economy is back to where it was last February. Two, the official unemployment rate does not reflect those who have completely withdrawn from the labor force. So, yes, we expect there to be rapid increasing in job growth over the coming months, as people get vaccinated and businesses get stood up and activity picks up.

    But I don't expect us to be back to exactly where we were, where people are back in the labor force, people are back employed, for some time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Cecilia Rouse, what are your concerns, if any, about this money getting to people as quickly as possible, those who need it the most, and with regard to rental aid, for example?

    We — I'm seeing today that very little of the $25 billion that went out under the Trump administration has reached renters who need it. What about — and the people who need unemployment assistance, they're — for people whose assistance has run out as of today? How concerned are you?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    So, this is why the president has brought on Gene Sperling to be the czar to ensure that the American Rescue Plan is implemented as efficiently and quickly as possible, because you are right.

    This is an — this is an ambitious law. It's an ambitious effort. It's an important effort. And we need to be helping all of the agencies and the parts of government to get this aid to people just as quickly as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are hearing, though, even from Democrats like the former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, that the sheer size of this package makes him worry about inflation.

    He said the worst, he worries, in a generation. And he went on yesterday in an interview to say: "I wish it were actually true that even a third of this money were going to people who are in poverty. Most of it is not." He said: "Most of it is going to the middle of the population. It is going in one-shot transfers, not in things ultimately going to build and strengthen the economy."

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Right now, our economy is in a big hole. We know that one in five renters are behind on their rent payments. We know that people are behind on their mortgages. We know that millions of adults, millions of children have been suffering food insecurity.

    So, many people, and not just those under the official poverty line, but many people are struggling to get by and are behind on their bills. So, this aid is really meant to address all of the different components of the economy and the U.S. market and U.S. economy, you know, the people that have been so profoundly affected by the pandemic.

    Is there a concern that the package is too large? Well, there is always that risk. I think many of us and a broad swathe of economists believe that the risk was actually in doing too little, because we know, if we don't get people back to work and if we don't get the economy going, scarring can set in, and then we won't be able to get back on track for economic growth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you do also hear from people like former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and others the concern that this is going to crowd out the ability to address other real needs that the country has, like infrastructure investment, climate change investment.

    There was an editorial in The Washington Post this week, for example, said the president should plan to offset some or all of the costs of these things through higher taxes, reduced spending on other — on other priorities.

    Are you already beginning to think about these tradeoffs?

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    The priority right now is getting us all to the other side of the pandemic. And that is the focus of the president and the vice president at this time.

    We do know that, in Build Back Better, there is a better part of that. And we know that the United States — and this is what Larry Summers was referring to — is in desperate need of some public investment.

    And so we are also going to be turning our attention to and have been working on, what are the most effective ways to improve our infrastructure, to address climate change? And the president has said, for these permanent kinds of investments, that some of it should be paid for. The permanent parts should be paid for.

    We are still working to put together a package of what those revenue races might be. But the goal here is to really put the U.S. economy on a path of more robust growth than we have had in the past. So, we need to get past to this pandemic, and then we need to be investing in our country, so that we can have even greater prosperity that is widely shared.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are going to leave it there.

    Cecilia Rouse, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, thank you.

  • Cecilia Rouse:

    Thank you.

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