Hours after President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, he gave his first prime-time presidential address to mark the anniversary of shutdowns across the nation — and to give Americans hope that the pandemic-era losses would soon come to an end.
“This country will be vaccinated soon,” Biden said. “Our economy will be on the mend; our kids will be back in school. And we will have proven, once again, that this country can do anything — hard things, big things, important things.”
Biden also announced a goal to make every American eligible to get the vaccine by May 1 and outlined moves his administration is taking to speed getting vaccines to the public, including using additional health care workers to administer vaccines and providing support from active duty military.
He also described the provisions of the American Rescue Plan that will provide economic help to many Americans, including stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, and health insurance assistance.
“I promise you we will come out stronger, with a faith in ourselves, a renewed commitment to one another, to our communities and our country,” Biden said.
The address was the culmination of Biden’s weeks of effort to get the rescue plan through Congress. Here, we’ll fact-check a few claims from Biden’s Thursday night speech, as well as some of his talking points from recent weeks about the impact on COVID-19 on jobs, food insecurity and schools.
“Two months ago, this country did not have nearly enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all or nearly all of the American public. But soon we will.” (Speech, March 11)
This is misleading about the status of vaccine supply under the previous administration. We rated a similar claim Mostly False.
While Trump was in office, his administration had agreements in place to buy 400 million doses of authorized vaccine, or enough to inoculate about 200 million people. That’s less than the U.S. adult population. But the Trump team had laid the groundwork to buy more.
We reviewed the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed contracts, and found that they included enough vaccine doses that, once cleared for use by the FDA, could inoculate about 550 million people — more than double the U.S. adult population.
“I said I intended to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first 100 days in office. Tonight, I can say we are not only going to meet that goal, we are going to beat that goal.” (Speech, March 11)
Biden has taken enough action to increase vaccine supply and speed up production that it seems very likely he will reach his goal of 100 million shots well before the end of his first 100 days. PolitiFact has rated this campaign promise In the Works.
In total, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker reports the U.S. has administered more than 95.7 million vaccine doses. About 62 million people have received at least one vaccine dose, and 32 million people are fully vaccinated. The majority of these vaccine administrations have occurred since Biden took office. It is expected that vaccine supply will increase in the coming months, likely adding to the pace and momentum.
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The U.S. so far has purchase agreements in place for a total of 800 million doses of vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 500 million people. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose.)
Biden also has started using the Defense Production Act (or DPA) to speed up the production of vaccines. In February, the president invoked the DPA to give Pfizer priority for the raw materials and equipment needed to manufacture vaccines. On March 3, Biden announced that Merck, a drugmaker competitor, had agreed to manufacture Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in their facilities. Some Johnson & Johnston facilities have also agreed to operate for 24 hours to boost production.
“We’ve lost over 400,000 small businesses.” (Remarks, March 5)
There’s no doubt that lots of small businesses have closed during the pandemic, but it’s unclear just how many. Biden’s 400,000 figure is on the high end of what’s been documented.
When we checked with the White House, officials pointed to a September report by George Washington University economist Steve Hamilton and published by the Brookings Institution. The report stated that, by summer 2020, “more than 420,000 small businesses” had closed.
But the footnotes do not directly support this number. The paper cited Womply, a data firm, which reported that 16.7 percent of small businesses were closed as of June 15, either temporarily or permanently. A Womply spokesperson told us that the current closure rate is 27 percent, a mix of temporary and permanent closures, based on credit card transaction data.
Hamilton also cited Yelp business closure data. Yelp’s small business closures report through August found about 98,000 permanent closures of brick-and-mortar businesses, but its methodology doesn’t capture all types of businesses. Yelp is no longer reporting on closures, but it released a COVID-19 anniversary report, which found that there were nearly half a million new business openings in the U.S. during the first year of the pandemic, down by 14 percent year-over-year.
Experts at the Federal Reserve wrote in an October paper that business closures are difficult to measure in real time because official statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau are released with substantial lags. They examined alternative indicators such as payroll data and found a higher exit rate for businesses affected by social distancing rules, such as restaurants. Payroll data showed “that business shutdown was elevated during the middle of the year but has since returned to normal or even below-normal rates, even among small establishments.”
The American Rescue Plan will create “over 6 million new jobs by itself.” (Remarks, March 6)
This is misleading. It includes job growth projected to happen even without the plan.
The figure comes from a January report by Moody’s Analytics, which assumed that the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would be enacted in full in March. Moody’s projected that economic growth would create 7.5 million jobs in 2021 and 2.5 million in 2022 to fully recover the jobs lost since the pre-pandemic peak.
“By then, the economy will have returned to full employment — an unemployment rate of 4% to 4.5% and a labor force participation rate of more than 62.5%,” Moody’s wrote. “This is about a year sooner than would be the case if there is no additional fiscal support.”
However, this figure does not refer to jobs created strictly as a result of the American Rescue Plan — it includes jobs that economists forecast would be created even without the stimulus bill.
“If the 7 million job figure is meant to refer to American Rescue Plan-created jobs in 2021, it significantly overstates what even the administration has said will be the jobs effect of the bill this year,” said Matt Weidinger, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Weidinger has noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that even without fiscal stimulus, employment would rise by more than 6 million jobs in 2021 and 1.7 million in 2022.
“We have 1 million fewer educators than we did this time last year.” (Remarks, March 5)
This number is likely inflated. We rated a similar statement Mostly False.
The White House pointed to Bureau of Labor Statistics data for employment losses February 2020 to February 2021, which showed a decline of 1.4 million jobs for state and local government, of which 1 million are in education.
But that number includes school employees beyond teachers, and the number doesn’t refer only to layoffs. Reports show that during the pandemic, some educators have quit, retired or taken a leave of absence.
It’s also important to note that the 1 million figure for the education sector includes workers at public colleges and universities.
Looking only at local K-12 schools, BLS data shows the number of local government education jobs declined by about 674,000 from February 2020 to February 2021.
“24 million adults” suffer from food insecurity (Remarks, March 6)
Estimates vary for the exact number of Americans who live in households that are food insecure or hungry, but Biden’s assertion seems reasonable.
The White House pointed to an analysis by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities based on the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The center cited data showing that in the first half of February, about 24 million adults — 11 percent of all adults in the country — reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days.
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a Northwestern University economist, said pre-pandemic and pandemic figures are not easily comparable because the data is collected in different ways.
Typically, food insecurity is measured with 18 questions that go into some detail about food hardship. There were some 24.5 million adults who were food insecure in 2019. But during the pandemic, surveyors have changed the methodology and respondents have generally been asked only a single question.
“It’s clear that an overwhelming percentage of the American people — Democrats, independents, and our Republican friends — have made it clear they strongly support the American Rescue Plan.” (Remarks, March 11)
The general public has supported the American Rescue Plan, but there is an enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans.
Biden said in February that “the vast majority of the American people” support his $1.9 trillion rescue plan, “including a majority of Republicans.” We rated that Half True.
Overall, polls have shown majority support for the American Rescue Plan, but less so among Republicans, although the numbers vary depending upon the poll and the question asked.
In February, the White House cited a CBS poll that found 70 percent of Republicans approved of Congress passing an additional economic relief package to provide funds to people and businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak. However, the wording of poll questions mattered: Two other polls with questions that included more details — Quinnipiac and SurveyMonkey/New York Times — found only a minority of Republicans supporting the American Rescue Plan.
More recent polls show mixed results for Republican support depending upon the question.
The White House pointed to a poll in March by Morning Consult/Politico that found 75 percent support overall for the relief package, and 59 percent support among Republicans.
But while a CNN poll in March found 61 percent support overall, it found 73 percent of Republicans opposed the plan. Individual elements of the proposal were more popular; stimulus checks, for instance, won 55 percent support among Republicans.
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