As talks of compromise and unity in Washington pose the possibility of reshaping a proposed coronavirus economic package, progressives in Congress are sounding off on President Joe Biden’s apparent willingness to change income threshold requirements that would significantly curtail who receives stimulus checks.
Biden has said he will not change his mind on the amount to be paid out, holding a firm line at $1,400 per eligible person. But in trying to court Republicans in Congress to support the eventual bill, which is currently going through the budget reconciliation process, he has signaled an openness to lowering the income threshold for eligibility to receive the checks.
According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, while Biden is unwilling to set the threshold at $50,000 per individual (or $100,000 per married couple), he may be willing to push the eligibility threshold below $75,000 per individual, which was the standard for previous stimulus bills during the pandemic.
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“I think the details can be worked out. And the president is certainly willing to work with Congress to find a good structure for these payments,” Yellen said.
The treasury secretary has also said she doesn’t believe that Biden would dip the threshold to affect anyone earning under $60,000 per year.
“If you think about an elementary school teacher or a policeman making $60,000 a year and faced with children who are out of school and people who may have had to withdraw from the labor force in order to take care of them and many extra burdens, the president thinks, and I would certainly agree, that it’s appropriate for people there to get support,” Yellen explained over the weekend on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Several progressive Democrats in Congress are outraged, however, by the consideration to lower the income threshold. Doing so, they’ve pointed out, would likely hurt the very people that the coronavirus economic relief packages are intended to help, since the eligibility is based on people’s income from tax returns that were filed before the pandemic started.
“‘Targeting’ survival checks further is cruel & bad policy,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) wrote on Sunday, pointing out that, according to Census data, 45 percent of households earning up to $150,000 have lost income during the pandemic. Another 25 percent of households earning that much or less, she added, are expecting to lose more income over the next four weeks.
“When you use 2019 tax data to determine eligibility thresholds, you are simply missing the point. The crisis started in 2020, and people need help NOW,” Jayapal added.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) also blasted the notion of lowering income limits for eligibility. She further expressed doubts that doing so would earn Biden the bipartisan support that he appears to be aiming for.
“Cutting the income cap will poison this bill,” Omar tweeted. “It already lacks Republicans support and will lose Progressive support.”
In addition to the concerns expressed by Jayapal and Omar, other Democrats noted that certain parts of the country could be hit harder by the tighter income threshold standards, including places where the cost of living is greater.
“These lower income thresholds would leave behind struggling individuals and families in regions where the costs are very high,” a letter to Biden from 50 Democrats opposed to such moves said.
Moreover, dozens of lawmakers, including Jayapal and Omar, are critical of this plan to disburse another round of one-time payments for the reason that they don’t believe it will help families through the remainder of the crisis. Instead, they are calling on Biden to support monthly disbursements to help people during the remainder of the pandemic.
“$2,000 a MONTH. To EVERY American,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) recently tweeted.