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Toomey Rails Against $1.9 Trillion Pandemic Relief Package

Manuel Balce Ceneta

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said there’s “no justification” for the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package House Democrats passed last week, and that instead of distributing more federal money, the economy should reopen immediately.
“I’m going to do everything I can to slow this down,” the Pennsylvania Republican said Friday morning, ahead of a Senate vote which Democrats expect to pass along party lines. “We’re in a very, very different place now [than last year]. The economy has come roaring back and there are some sectors that have not mainly because they’re still having to deal with partial lockdowns.”

Among his many complaints, Toomey griped that the legislation would send $130 billion to schools, but does not mandate that schools reopen.

“It’s ridiculous and it's indefensible and it's a huge chunk of money,” he said. “[Democrats] tell us this is for reopening the schools, but there’s no requirement for reopening the school. It’s not about the lockdown. It's all about the federal government taking over education funding.”

Schools have said that they need more money to be able to properly ventilate classrooms and provide personal protective equipment to teachers and staff, among other things.

The bill, called the American Rescue Plan, also includes $1,400 checks for Americans who make up to $75,000 a year, as well as money for local governments that have shouldered much of the testing and vaccination response as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.

But Toomey said that Americans who are still struggling do not need more stimulus checks: They need to be able to go back to work.

“We have a very, very expensive social safety net already,” Toomey said. “People who didn't use to qualify for unemployment benefits, they do now. And we sent checks. A family of four got $5,600 over the course of last year….Of course, there are people who haven’t gotten back to work yet. Let’s get them back to work!”

He also said that federal aid over the course of the last 12 months has “more than offset the costs” that local governments have faced.

“The federal government paid for the research and the development of the vaccine, we paid for the production of the vaccine, we paid for the distribution of the vaccine, we paid for the vials and stoppers and the syringes and the dry ice and the transportation," he said. "We paid to administer it, we paid to put it in people’s arms, and we still sent a boatload of money to state and local governments.”

Senate Democrats are expected to pass the bill this weekend.

Lucy Perkins is an editor and also reports on federal government and elections for the Government and Accountability team. Before joining the WESA newsroom, she was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. You can reach her at lperkins@wesa.fm.
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