Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Challenge: End the Coronavirus Crisis Faster

The White House is setting benchmarks, such as a 4 percent unemployment rate, to mark a full recovery. But the wild card remains the same: the virus itself.

By Jim Tankersley and Sheryl Gay Stolberg

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration, with hundreds of billions of dollars to spend to end the Covid crisis, has set a series of aggressive benchmarks to determine whether the economy has fully recovered, including returning to historically low unemployment and helping more than one million Black and Hispanic women return to work within a year.

But restoring economic activity, which was central to President Biden’s pitch for his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, faces logistical and epidemiological challenges unlike any previous recovery. Infectious new variants of the virus are spreading. Strained supply chains are holding up the distribution of rapid Covid-19 tests, which could be critical to safely reopening schools, workplaces, restaurants, theaters and concert venues.

Then there are questions of whether the money can reach schools and child care providers quickly enough to make a difference for parents who were forced to quit their jobs to care for their children.

The money from the rescue plan “will absolutely allow us to pull forward that end date,” said Charlie Anderson, the director of economic policy and budget for the White House’s coronavirus response team. “It’s very hard to tell how much, but I can tell you it will absolutely supercharge what we’re doing.”

Privately, Mr. Biden’s aides are tracking health and economic data — like the capacity levels of day care centers — to gauge their success. They are also setting broad targets, like a return to a 4 percent unemployment rate, which would be just above the nation’s prepandemic rate, by next year.

Similar promises came back to bite Mr. Biden in 2009, as vice president, when he oversaw a considerably smaller economic stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama to lift the country from the Great Recession. Shortly before he and Mr. Obama took office that January, their advisers predicted the measure would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent — a projection that haunted the administration as the economy slogged on for years.

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