As Congress debates President Joe Biden’s request for another $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief funding to assist the deteriorated economy, including a third stimulus check pegged at $1,400, some Democratic lawmakers are pushing for an even bigger response: $2,000 monthly payments until the pandemic is gone. Some are calling it the beginning of universal basic income.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and more than 50 other House members are urging the Biden administration to back such a policy, according to a signed letter sent to Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Signers of the January 28 letter also include other leading House progressives such as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
“One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis,” they wrote. “Many families cannot afford to wait for eight months between payments. To truly build back better, families need stability and certainty through ongoing relief — they cannot be at the mercy of congressional gridlock.”
A recurring stimulus check is a familiar proposal for Harris, who last year introduced a bill in the Senate that would have provided $2,000 a month for each adult and child in the U.S. until the pandemic ended, although the effort failed to gain traction.
Supporters of the idea note that financial hardship remains widespread around the U.S. 10 months after COVID-19 effectively shuttered the economy. A new analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, found that one-third of adults are struggling to pay their bills. Many of those who are hurting are low-wage workers whose service jobs were impacted by the crisis, such as those in restaurant and retail jobs.
While the letter didn’t specify an amount for a recurring stimulus payment, Rep. Omar tweeted on Thursday that she would like to see payments of $2,000 per month until the global health crisis has ended. So far, the federal government’s response efforts have included two direct payments to most low- and middle-class families: a $1,200 check for eligible adults last spring and a $600 per person check earlier this month.
The recurring payments should be directed to “those who need it most and will spend it the quickest,” as well as include “all immigrant workers, refugees, and their families,” Omar wrote. Older dependents and people over the age of 16 who are claimed as dependents — and who were excluded from the first two stimulus checks — should also be included, she added.
The latest relief plan under debate in Congress would provide a third stimulus check of $1,400 to most U.S. households, with Wall Street analysts estimating that the payments could be approved by the end of March.
Given ongoing hardship and high unemployment rates, a bold stimulus plan is needed to both alleviate current suffering and plant the seeds for economic revival, said Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council under President Clinton and President Obama, on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
“We know there is still an enormous amount of economic suffering going on in our country,” Sperling said on the call hosted by Invest in America Action, an advocacy group for public investment. “The top quartile might see unemployment around 5%, but for the bottom quartile, it’s over 20%.”
For people in the bottom fifth of income-earners, unemployment remains at “Depression-level” rates, he added.
Asked about Omar’s request for recurring stimulus payments, Sperling noted that Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal includes several recurring aid programs, including $400 in extra weekly jobless benefits and an increase in tax credits to $3,600 per child under 6-years-old. There’s some discussion that such a child tax credit could be paid on a monthly basis, he added.
Some economists have argued that direct stimulus checks aren’t as effective in boosting economic growth as other forms of aid, such as unemployment benefits and food stamps, which are provided to people in need and are spent relatively quickly. The effectiveness of the second round of checks has been mixed, with lower-income households spending the money quickly, while wealthier households socked away the cash, a recent study found.
Ongoing payments would provide stability to families struggling in the crisis, Omar wrote. “Recurring direct payments until the economy recovers will help ensure that people can meet their basic needs, provide racially equitable solutions and shorten the length of the recession,” she said.