President Joe Biden, wearing a navy blue suit white shirt, and navy blue tie, sits at a dark brown wooden desk as he signs the American Rescue Plan. President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package, in the Oval Office of the White House, on March 11, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

More than 5.5 million qualifying Pennsylvania households will receive direct assistance through stimulus checks. Other aid will come in the form of child tax credits, SNAP benefits, and extended unemployment benefits.

Pennsylvanians can find many benefits in the COVID-19 relief plan President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

More than 5.5 million qualifying Pennsylvania households will receive stimulus checks and more than 480,000 qualifying Pennsylvanians will be able to collect extended unemployment benefits through a variety of spending initiatives intended to help people financially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Included in the broad American Rescue Plan that garnered final Congressional approval Wednesday—despite no Republicans backing it—are $13 billion in aid to state and local governments, $651 million in emergency rental assistance, spending for food programs for people in need, and assistance to keep low-income people in their homes. 

Tax credits also are part of the $1.9 trillion initiative, as are funding for schools and child care providers, subsidies for health insurance and Medicaid, and additional funding for small businesses (including dollars designated specifically for bars and restaurants). 

In addition, the plan provides money for expanding COVID-19 vaccination efforts as well as testing and contact tracing related to the virus. Rural hospitals and healthcare providers would receive funding to help with pandemic-related care. A total of $7.5 billion will be going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for vaccine distribution.

Funding is needed by many across the state who continue to face financial hardship as the coronavirus pandemic continues, supporters of the legislation said.

Relief payments to Pennsylvania residents and governments will come in a variety of ways. 

Stimulus Checks

The most direct aid coming to Pennsylvanians is $14.8 billion worth of stimulus payments to 5.8 million eligible households, according to the Congressional Research Service

To qualify for full payments, individuals can make no more than $75,000 in annual income, and married couples can earn no more than $150,000. Payments are reduced as income climbs, and individuals making at least $80,000 per year and couples paid at least $160,000 will not receive the money. 

According to the White House, that money could arrive very soon.

Unemployment Insurance Boost

The bill extended the federal unemployment insurance boost of $300 per week until September. House Democrats initially planned to increase the benefit to $400, but Senate Democrats reduced it after objections by Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

The measure also will make the first $10,200 worth of jobless benefits payments tax-free for households with annual incomes of less than $150,000.

The extended unemployment insurance boost will go to the more than 420,000 Pennsylvanians who were jobless as of December, according to the latest figure from the federal Department of Labor

The American Rescue Plan also addresses the hardship of COBRA payments that unemployed workers have to pay if they want to continue to be covered on the plan of their now-former employer. Instead of the newly unemployed worker paying the full premium, the federal government will pay the full premium for six months. And there will be increased subsidies for laid off workers to purchase new coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. 

Local Government Funding

Pennsylvania  local governments will receive more than $13.7 billion in funding to help make up for revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic, according to a Senate spreadsheet. The state government will receive $7.3 billion, municipalities will get about $1.2 billion, and counties will get $2.8 billion; another $279 million will go to state capital projects.

Individual municipalities will receive assistance based on their size. For example, municipalities and school districts in Erie will get $275 million while Philadelphia is expected to receive about $1.4 billion, according to the National Association of Counties.

Food Assistance

The American Rescue Plan extends the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits approved in December through at least September. Qualifying families would receive an added $27 per person monthly, and in Pennsylvania, 29% of that increase would go to people with incomes below 50% of the federal poverty level, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Last month, 1.8 million Pennsylvanians received SNAP benefits. 

Restaurants and Bars

Among the businesses in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the country hit hardest by the pandemic are restaurants and taverns. The relief plan includes $25 billion to help owners pay for a variety of costs, including payroll, mortgage/rent, food and beverages, and utilities. 

The plan also makes another $7 billion in Paycheck Protection Program dollars available to businesses, and it expands eligibility to more nonprofit organizations. 

Tax Credits

The COVID-19 relief legislation provides additional tax credits for qualifying Pennsylvanians.

The plan boosts the earned income tax credit (EITC) maximum for workers without children from $529 to a maximum of $1,500. Pennsylvania is home to about 697,000 childless employees who would gain from expanding EITC.

Meanwhile, about 900,000 children would be eligible for the tax credit in Pennsylvania. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says the expansion would lift about 140,000 children out of poverty in the state.