Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus
Democrats are keen on including additional direct payments to Americans in the next coronavirus response bill, arguing more needs to be done to provide financial stability as the pandemic ravages the economy.
A number of Democratic lawmakers have offered proposals for more generous payments than the ones included in the $2 trillion measure President Trump signed into law Friday. That legislation included one-time cash payments for most Americans of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
It was the third coronavirus bill he’s signed, but lawmakers are already starting to discuss their priorities for a “phase four” measure.
Some congressional observers say the prospects of additional checks will likely depend in part on how long it takes for the U.S. to contain the virus outbreak.
“So much of it is uncertain because it’s driven by the trajectory of the disease,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, which is led by a former Obama administration official.
The latest bipartisan measure signed by Trump contained several provisions aimed at helping individuals and businesses cover their expenses during the pandemic. In addition to the one-time checks, unemployment insurance received a boost and small businesses can now access forgivable loans if they retain their workers.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the coronavirus relief checks should arrive within three weeks.
By then, Democrats might already be giving shape to a fourth coronavirus relief bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made several comments in recent days backing enhanced direct payments in the next coronavirus measure. A proposal released by House Democrats on Monday called for one-time cash payments of $1,500 for both adults and children, which is more generous than the payments in the new law.
“We had bigger direct payments in our bill,” Pelosi said during a press conference Thursday. “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of direct payments.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, has suggested that the next package include additional cash payments if conditions necessitate them. Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has called for monthly checks of $2,000 for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
Other Democratic lawmakers are proposing multiple rounds of direct payments to help Americans weather the pandemic.
Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) have offered a plan that would provide most Americans with monthly checks for six months, which Congress could renew for an additional six months if the outbreak continues to weigh on the economy.
“I think it’s important for mental health and economic health for people to know they have something to lean on,” Ryan said Friday in an interview with The Hill.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) earlier this month proposed immediate payments of $2,000 per person, with additional payments of lower amounts if the economic turmoil persists.
A spokeswoman for Bennet said Friday that the senator still thinks “assistance should last as long as it takes to get through the public health crisis and restore our economy.”
Other Democrats who have floated multiple direct payments include House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (Calif.) and prominent freshman progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).
In addition to more relief checks, Democrats have expressed an interest in expanding the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — two refundable credits benefiting low- and middle-income families — as part of future coronavirus legislation. Many Democrats, including Brown and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (Mass.), have long had an interest in expanding the credits and argue that doing so now would give families additional assistance.
“If we pass additional measures to respond to an ongoing economic downturn, Congress has an opportunity to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit to help working families get further ahead,” Brown said in a statement provided to The Hill.
Democrats aren’t the only ones who have suggested there should be more than one round of cash assistance.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has introduced a bill that would provide monthly payments to families during times of economic distress or school closures as a result of the coronavirus.
Early in the discussions about the phase three package, the Trump administration suggested two rounds of direct payments. But some Senate Republicans criticized the idea of direct payments, so the package included a section on checks that had a smaller price tag than what the administration had proposed.
The Treasury Department did not have a comment Friday about the idea of additional checks.
A spokesman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that it’s too soon to know what will be included in a phase four package. Grassley played a key role in the checks that were included in phase three.
“Sen. Grassley will work with his colleagues on Phase 4 legislation if it becomes necessary,” Grassley spokesman Michael Zona said. “It’s too early to say what that legislation might encompass. It would need to address any ongoing problems in an effective manner.”
Some economic policy experts said several factors will play into whether Congress passes legislation that creates additional direct payments, such as how long the outbreak persists and the economy struggles and how effective and popular the checks and loans in the phase three package are.
“I think the economic need for additional cash payments to households depends on the effectiveness of the loan programs,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who is now president of the right-leaning American Action Forum.
Holtz-Eakin said that if the business loans are effective in keeping workers on payrolls, there won’t be a need for more checks, but the odds of Congress passing additional checks go up if the loans don’t succeed in preventing further layoffs and business closures.
Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscal watchdog group, said additional checks are “very plausible.”
He said additional checks are more likely if things still haven’t normalized in a few months and if the first round of checks is popular with the public. He also said that checks are a very broad policy and that additional checks may not make the most sense if some parts of the country are doing better than others.
But Adam Ruben — director of Economic Security Project Action, which advocates for a “cost-of-living refund” — said he doesn’t think additional cash payments would be a tough sell if some parts of the country recover faster than others. He said many people were struggling financially even before the coronavirus outbreak.
“A single check is a fundamental misunderstanding of this health crisis,” Ruben said. “Public health experts are predicting that this will be a marathon, and Americans need money in their wallets to sustain them.”