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Congressional Democrats back blueprint for Biden’s relief plan

President Biden's plans to pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus package picked up some momentum Friday as Democrats in Congress approved a basic blueprint. While the measures don't have the force of law, lawmakers are expected to begin writing the details of a major package next week. Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden's plans to pass a nearly $2 trillion economic stimulus package picked up some momentum today, as Democrats in Congress approved a basic blueprint.

    While the measures don't have the force of law, lawmakers are expected to begin writing details of a major package next week.

    As White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor reports, the president made his case on the same day as the release of another weak jobs report tied to the pandemic.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today at the White House, President Biden doubling down on the need to pass his COVID relief plan.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    I see enormous pain in this country, a lot of folks out of work, a lot of folks going hungry, staring at the ceiling tonight wondering, what am I going to do tomorrow? So, I'm going to act, and I'm going to act fast.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president dismissed Republican concerns that the $1.9 trillion package is too much.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    What Republicans have proposed is to either do nothing or not enough. All of sudden, many of them have rediscovered fiscal restraint and the concern for the deficits.

    But don't kid yourself. This approach will come with a cost, more pain for more people for longer than it has to be.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Biden is calling on lawmakers to pass the plan fast. Among other things, it calls for $1,400 direct payments to individuals, which Biden says are non-negotiable, increased weekly federal unemployment benefits to $400, and extending federal jobless programs through September.

    Earlier in the day, President Biden met with congressional Democrats. After the meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a bill would absolutely be passed by March 15. That's when enhanced federal unemployment benefits are set to expire.

    Overnight, the Senate approved a budget resolution that would allow it to fast-track the aid without Republican support. And, today, the House followed suit.

    The hours-long session included votes on amendments that could define what goes into the actual bill.

  • Man:

    All in favor say, aye.

  • Senators:

    Aye.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Among the votes, a rejection of hiking the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Republicans and some economists argue that, since the worst of the pandemic, the economy has rebounded.

    Some sectors, including professional and business services, have recovered well. And this week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that GDP would rise to pre-pandemic levels before the end of this year.

    But this morning, the nation woke to a bleak picture of the economy, still hurt by the pandemic's winter surge. The Labor Department's January jobs report revealed, U.S. employers added only 49,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell, but remained high at 6.3 percent. And of the 22 million jobs lost since last spring, about 10 million jobs remain lost. That's worse than at the height of the financial crisis.

    Angela Retamoza is one of four million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months.

  • Angela Retamoza:

    I kind of feel like I'm in limbo. So, yes, it can be somewhat discouraging at times, but I just keep trudging along.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Since March, she has relied on state unemployment aid. And she said the extra federal unemployment benefits have helped her make ends meet.

  • Angela Retamoza:

    It alleviates so much stress. It's not like my stress completely went away, but to know that I can pay my rent and my bills and put food on the table because just unemployment on its own really only pays my rent and my utilities. And then, everything else, I have got to figure out how I'm going to do that. So, the extra is really helpful.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At the heart of a bifurcated recovery, job losses for women. Women account for most of the nearly 10 million jobs still lost, with women of color hit especially hard.

    Overall, the jobless rates for Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are both still higher than the national average.

    And since the start of the pandemic, the Federal Reserve reports that wealth for the top 1 percent of earners went up 400 percent compared to the bottom 50 percent.

    In March, Leida Parker Sylvester was furloughed from her job in the hospitality industry. She said looking for work has been grueling.

  • Leida Parker Sylvester:

    The job search has been really difficult. I just put in job after job. It has to be over 100 jobs that I have applied for. The most work I have been able to find is part -time work here and there.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In January, the service sector shed 127,000 jobs. The industry continues to represent the overwhelming majority of jobs lost long-term or permanently.

  • Amy Scheide:

    We have experienced a 72 percent loss in revenue compared to last year.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Amy Scheide runs a restaurant and catering business in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. She has not been able to bring back most of her staff, and she says help from Washington isn't coming fast enough.

  • Amy Scheide:

    When payroll rolls around, it's coming from my personal savings. It's — there is no money in the business for anything other than the food necessary to keep moving forward, the mortgage that cannot be ignored, and the utilities that cannot be ignored.

    We have watched business after business after business close already.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

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