Biden under pressure to get $1,400 payments out quickly
With President Biden on the verge of signing his coronavirus relief bill into law, the administration now faces a race against the clock in trying to get relief out the door as quickly as possible.
White House officials expect the $1,400 direct payments designated for most Americans will be sent out by the end of March. But other forms of assistance in the $1.9 trillion package could take longer to allocate.
The massive bill is the first major legislative victory of Biden’s presidency, and it polls well with the public. Democrats are hoping implementation will jump-start the recovery and prove to be a winner politically as well.
But promotion and ownership of the bill by the White House and congressional Democrats mean any hiccups or struggles will leave Democrats open to criticism from Republicans, none of whom voted for the legislation.
“Someone needs to make sure that the money is going out the door as quickly as possible while the rest of the administration touts the hell out of it at every available opportunity,” said Jim Manley, Democratic strategist and former communications director for ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the administration is “moving full speed ahead on the implementation of the bill.” She added that Biden intends to name a coordinator to oversee the allocation of relief funds.
“We know that this will not all be implemented in four days or a week,” Psaki told reporters. “This will take some time, and we want to ensure that there is a person responsible and accountable to the implementation.”
Cabinet officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, are expected to play leading roles in getting financial assistance out the door and reopening schools in order to meet Biden’s goal of having the majority of K-12 schools open in the next 50 days.
The COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House on Wednesday, following Senate passage over the weekend, includes funding for school reopenings, vaccines, an expansion of the child tax credit, emergency rental assistance and help for small businesses such as restaurants.
“Our Treasury team will be doing everything we can to accelerate the recovery,” Yellen said in a statement after the House vote. “We are ready to get to work implementing the measures in the Rescue Plan, including economic impact payments, expanded child tax credits, help for struggling renters and homeowners, and support for state, local and tribal governments.”
Biden is expected to sign the bill at the White House on Friday.
Some key parts of the bill are expected to be implemented almost immediately. Most notably, the IRS is expected to start issuing the direct payments of up to $1,400 per person shortly after the bill’s enactment.
The IRS has already sent out two previous rounds of payments, and the second round started to arrive in people’s bank accounts just two days after the legislation was signed into law by former President Trump.
Psaki said Tuesday that the administration would build “on lessons learned from previous rounds to increase the number of households that will get electronic payments, which are substantially faster than checks.”
Another element of the relief package that is expected to be administered quickly is the extension of federal unemployment programs and the weekly $300 boost to jobless benefits. Biden will sign the bill just two days before the jobless benefits are slated to expire.
“States are anticipating this change,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director at Employ America. “I don’t think we’ll see too many issues.”
Any delays, she said, would likely be concentrated in just a handful of states.
Other parts of the bill, however, could take more time to implement or create taxpayer confusion along the way.
The Senate added an amendment to the bill that would make the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits that people received last year tax-free in instances where households have income under $150,000. This provision applies for the 2020 taxes that people are currently in the midst of filing.
People who received unemployment benefits last year and have already filed their 2020 returns may need to file amended returns to receive the tax relief. Additionally, the IRS will need to quickly explain to taxpayers and tax preparers how to obtain the tax exemption on 2020 returns that have yet to be filed.
Implementation of the tax exemption “is going to be difficult,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union. He noted that the exemption comes on top of the fact that there are many people who were victims of identity theft and received tax forms from their states that report unemployment benefits they didn’t receive.
Another provision in the relief package directs the Treasury Department to create a program to issue advance payments of the child tax credit on a periodic basis. The advance payments can be issued from July through December.
Nina Olson, executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights, said the IRS will work to get a periodic payments program established in a prompt fashion.
“I think they will do everything they can to get it up by July,” said Olson, who was national taxpayer advocate at the IRS for nearly two decades.
A new $28.6 billion relief program for restaurants and bars that is funded by the relief package will be overseen by the Small Business Administration. Lawmakers have stressed the need to ensure that program is implemented quickly and that grants are provided to smaller restaurants most in need.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told reporters on a press call organized by the Independent Restaurant Coalition on Wednesday that officials have learned lessons from previous delays, including a relief program included in December legislation to assist independent theaters and music venues. He said it would be a matter of “weeks, not months” before the new funds are available.
“It is a priority. It will take time. We need to work to get the word out to the independent restaurants because we have some guardrails in this legislation to provide a boost for smaller enterprises, for people who are identified as most at risk,” Blumenauer said.
The bill also includes health-related funding aimed at helping the country get past the pandemic, such as $7.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for distributing, administering and tracking coronavirus vaccines and nearly $130 billion in funding for K-12 schools to assist in reopening. The Biden administration says it will have enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May, but public health experts say the funding will be critical to the successful distribution.
“It’s very important that these resources get to the frontlines as quickly as possible. Eventually, vaccine supply will meet and then exceed demand, so these resources will be important to reach vaccine-hesitant individuals as well as individuals in underserved communities,” said Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Getting these resources out the door quickly and to the frontlines will be imperative, although challenging. Many entities have difficulty absorbing and spending large amounts of resources in short order. Providing best practices and technical assistance to grantees so that they are efficiently and expeditiously using these resources in an evidence-based manner will be critical,” Parekh said.