21 Senate Democrats press Biden to include recurring direct payments in infrastructure plan

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Greg Nash

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and 20 other Senate Democrats are calling on President Biden to include recurring direct payments to individuals and enhanced unemployment benefits for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic in his “Build Back Better” legislation, which the president plans to unveil Wednesday.

Wyden and his colleagues say the $1,400 direct stimulus checks included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed earlier this month, will only suffice for a few months and that Americans need more money to cover bills and other expenses.

“We urge you to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in your Build Back Better long-term economic plan,” the Democratic senators wrote in a letter to Biden. 

“While we are pleased that the American Rescue Plan included a one-time direct payment and an extension of federal unemployment insurance programs, a single direct payment will not last long for most families,” they wrote.

They argue that another round of stimulus checks are needed because millions of people don’t qualify for unemployment insurance after seeing their work hours cut, switching to lower-paying jobs or leaving the workforce to care for relatives.

“Recurring direct payments have wide support from both the general public and economic experts,” they wrote.

They cited an Urban Institute study projecting that a single $1,200 direct payment combined with federal unemployment payments and state assistance could keep 12 million people out of poverty and a second direct payment could keep 6.3 million more people above the poverty line.

Wyden earlier this month circulated a similar letter, signed by nine other senators, calling for recurring direct payments and automatic insurance extensions and tying those benefits to economic conditions. 

The fact that nearly half the Democratic caucus signed Wyden’s letter on Tuesday shows that support for recurring stimulus payments is getting stronger.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were among the Democrats who signed Tuesday’s letter.

Congress has already approved three rounds of direct payments: $1,200 checks in March 2020, $600 checks in December and $1,400 checks this month.

Democrats in favor of recurring stimulus checks while the economy continues to suffer from business closures and other restrictions argue it’s good policy and good politics.

A Politico-Morning Consult poll published earlier this month found that 75 percent of Americans, including 55 percent of Trump voters and 59 percent of Republicans, supported the American Rescue Plan, which included $1,400 checks for individuals earning up to $75,000. 

The senators on Tuesday cited polling data showing that people also strongly support recurring payments.

“Polling shows 65 percent of Americans support recurring cash payments ‘for the duration of the pandemic.’ This includes support from 54 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents. Economists support the idea too,” they wrote.

The lawmakers also warned that $300-per-week federal unemployment benefits will run out at the beginning of September, before the economy is expected to fully recover from the pandemic, creating a “cliff.” 

“We are worried about the cliff facing unemployed workers when the unemployment insurance extensions expire on September 6. This crisis is far from over, and families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions,” they wrote to Biden. 

Morgan Chalfant contributed. 

Tags American Rescue Plan Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Dick Durbin direct payments Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden recurring payments Ron Wyden Sherrod Brown

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