What are automatic stimulus checks and will they become a reality?
Progressive Democrats are already thinking beyond the third stimulus bill before it’s cleared the final hurdle. What is an automatic stimulus check?
The $1.9 trillion third major stimulus package has not even been signed into law yet and already progressives in the Senate are campaigning for automatic stimulus checks and additional unemployment benefits in what could be a fourth coronavirus recovery bill.
"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," a group senators wrote in a letter to the President obtained by multiple outlets Tuesday. "Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions."
What is an automatic stimulus check?
The Democratic proposal seeks to turn jobless benefits and stimulus checks into automatic payments in the future, by tying them to economic indicators like the unemployment rate. The group of progressives argue that it’s unfair for the American people to be left hanging on the whims of warring political factions.
“Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions,” said the letter. "Automatic stabilizers will give families certainty that more relief is coming, allowing them to make the best decisions about how to spend their relief payments as they receive them," it goes on. "Families shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ll have enough money to pay for essentials in the months ahead as the country continues to fight a global pandemic."
The leaders do not specifically say in the letter how much the automatic direct checks or extended jobless benefits should be. The proposal builds on existing ideas from progressives in Congress to authorise recurring stimulus checks.
Last year, Kamala Harris (D-Ca. - at the time), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Ma.) put forward a proposal last year that would send $2,000 per person, plus $2,000 per child, for up to $10,000 per month to families earning less than $100,000.
$2,000 recurring stimulus is not a slogan. For too many it’s the difference between falling deeper into a destructive cycle of poverty vs having the means to survive a deadly pandemic. #SurvivalChecksNow— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) January 30, 2021
Who is pushing for an automatic stimulus check?
The effort is led by Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Or.) who posted the open letter. So far, nine senators have signed on, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.), Cory Booker (D-NJ.), and Alex Padilla (D-Ca.) among others, but other lawmakers may join before the letter is officially released.
Wyden has been pushing for a while for additional unemployment benefits to be tied to economic conditions, but the inclusion of the stimulus checks are new as of Tuesday’s letter.
Referring to stimulus checks and the extended pandemic jobless benefits, the letter said "These two forms of payments are effective together…Unemployment insurance has replaced lost income for millions who have lost their jobs... Direct payments are crucial for supporting struggling families who aren’t reached by unemployment insurance."
The effectiveness of those two relief provisions and their popularity among the public are two other reasons lawmakers are pushing for these so-called “automatic stabilisers” to become law.
After getting renewed this winter, several key unemployment programs are set to expire in the spring, meaning up to 11.4 million workers could lose their base unemployment benefits if no stimulus deal is passed, an analysis by The Century Foundation found.
Third stimulus check: when could the bill pass?
Once the covid-19 relief bill is introduced in the Senate it will start the clock ticking on 20 hours of debate. The expectation is that the legislation will be brought to the floor on Wednesday and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has made it clear that he intends to work around the clock. “I expect a hearty debate and some late nights,” Schumer said from the Senate floor on Monday.
The main focus has been on Democrats since under budget reconciliation in the evenly divided Senate they just need the 50 votes in their caucus plus Vice President Harris’ tiebreaking vote to pass the bill. But the Republicans could still slow the process down by extending the vote-a-rama session expected Thursday night into Friday morning, pushing it into the weekend or beyond.
For all of the latest updates on the stimulus checks and tax credits as they happen, follow our dedicated live feed.
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