Trillions in New Pandemic Relief Available

Hank Butler (top) and Robin Schatz discuss how the American Rescue Plan will impact Pennsylvania. | Screenshot by Sophie Panzer

Anyone who received a $1,400 check from the government this month knows something big happened in Congress recently, but the latest pandemic relief package goes far beyond individual payments.

The American Rescue Plan passed March 6 and allocates $1.9 trillion to individuals, small businesses and nonprofits, state and local governments, food distribution sites, health care providers and schools. It also extends emergency unemployment benefits and provides tax breaks to low-income individuals and families with children.

The Jewish Federations of North America held a webinar on March 18 to inform stakeholders and partner organizations what the bill means for the Jewish community.
Elizabeth Cullen, health policy counsel, said the relief package’s multi-billion dollar investment in public health would help make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to millions of homebound seniors and people with disabilities and ensure more people have health insurance coverage.

“To put this into perspective, this is the largest investment in the public health system in the history of the country,” Cullen said.

The money, she explained, goes directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to federal community health centers. Bill language specifies that $15 billion should be used for the creation of pop-up clinics and mobile vaccine distribution to reach people in underserved communities, $460 million is for ramping up vaccine communication and outreach and $47.8 billion will go to creating a national COVID-19 testing strategy.

Clockwise from upper left: Pam Kurtzman, Jorge Castro, Steve Gross and Elana Broitman discuss the new pandemic relief bill. | Screenshot by Sophie Panzer

She said the bill allocates $4 billion to address the mental health and substance use crisis that has accompanied the pandemic, with $50 million in grants available to local nonprofits and community organizations that tackle the issue.

Aaron Kaufman, senior legislative associate, said the relief package includes $12.67 billion for home- and community-based services for the 10 million Americans with disabilities on Medicaid.

“Those are things like showering, shaving, dressing, activities of daily living, non-emergency medical transportation, job coaching, et cetera,” he said. “This money is very, very exciting.”

The new round of aid makes several changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, the forgivable loans designed to help small businesses and nonprofits keep employees on payroll through pandemic-induced closures and revenue loss. While the CARES Act defined small businesses as those with fewer than 100 employees, that number was increased to 500. The new rules also reduce the amount of financial loss a business is required to show to qualify.

The deadline to apply for PPP aid from the Small Business Administration is March 31, but JFNA encourages applicants to contact state representatives and urge them to extend the deadline. There is a pre-written letter asking senators to cosponsor S. 723, the Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act of 2021, that can be signed and sent at

Stephan Kline, associate vice president for public policy, said non-public schools, including Jewish day schools, are eligible for a total of $5.5 billion from ARP and the COVID-19 relief bill that passed in December. Schools are eligible if they enroll a significant percentage of low-income students and can show they are among the schools most impacted by the crisis. The money will be administered by state Departments of Education.

Darcy Hirsh, director of government affairs, said emergency food and shelter programs are getting $510 million in all, which will be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a nationwide network of 14,000 local emergency food and shelter boards and state committees.

Hirsh said $50 billion will go to improve access to child care through grants to low-income families and grants for child care centers that lost money and resources due to lack of enrollment. She urged anyone interested in applying to reach out to their state Department of Social Services.

At a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia community meeting on March 19, Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence Jr. said his county will receive $161 million from the relief package.

Lawrence Jr. said a large portion of the money will go to food distribution, particularly for students missing free meals they would normally receive at school, and vaccinations. Some will go to help small businesses and nonprofits with the costs of closures.

Money will be allocated to address issues that have been worsened by the health crisis, such as homelessness and addiction.

Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, said Pennsylvania received $13 billion from the rescue package, with $5.7 billion allocated to local governments and $2.5 billion used to address government deficits. The state legislature is still debating how to use the remaining $4.8 billion, although Butler said the vaccine rollout would be the highest priority.

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