Emergency relief checks for Americans left high-and-dry by the economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic remain the focus of ongoing negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats today after talks hit a significant snag over the weekend.
Despite the setbacks, congressional leaders said Monday that they are still hoping to have a deal worked out, and quite possibly a vote to approve it, sometime yet this afternoon or this evening.
Senate Republicans put forward a 247-page proposal that includes a one-time mass mailing of checks amounting to $1,200 for most qualified workers (up to $2,400 for married couples) and $500 for each child in the country living in families that make less than $75,000 a year. Payment totals to individuals would drop by $5 for every $100 in annual income above the $75,000 threshold until they phased out completely for people making $99,000 or more.
There is no guarantee that the Senate Republican proposal, which is part of a larger bailout bill for the economy that is expected to cost at least $1 trillion dollars, is going to pass muster with Democrats in its present form and any agreement would still have to be passed by the House and signed by the President before checks could be sent.
United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressed his support earlier during an interview with Fox Business for a plan to send every American adult a $1,000 check in as little as three weeks time but whether that sort of speed is even possible remains an open question. The government has only done something similar to this twice before, well over a decade ago, and back then it took months from the time the checks were authorized until they arrived in mailboxes.
Mnuchin and others in Washington DC have suggested that if the crisis is still in full swing in May that the whole process may have to be repeated again with a second round of checks but the prospect that this is going to be a one – or two – and done situation is already meeting with skepticism since health experts are now warning it could be up to 18 months before the pandemic is finally brought under control in the United States, let alone around the world.
The idea of quickly sending every American adult a check for around $1,000 in order to stimulate the rapidly faltering American economy first began to gain traction in the halls of power in Washington D.C. last week when Republican Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) came out in favor of it even as the stock market sustained its largest single-day percentage drop ever on top of what had already been a bad week.
President Trump has expressed support for the relief effort but said specific plans should ensure that well-off Americans who are not in distress are not inadvertently included among those receiving the emergency support.
At this point “immediately” appears to be some time in April, and then only if the plan is quickly finalized and approved by both the Congress and the President.
While Secretary Mnuchin will certainly be a key player in any effort to send out cash to essentially the entire American public, it is actually the Congress which would authorize and create such a program and set the specific payment amounts. Right now it appears to be the Senate which is taking the lead in turning the suggestions into law and a concrete proposal from senators is expected as early as Thursday evening.
Just mailing a wave of unrestricted checks to the entire population has never been done before and it remains to be seen if it is even possible to physically do it in the three week time from that Secretary Mnuchin has proposed.
IRS officials have suggested to reporters that the absolute easiest way to get it done is to send the same amount to everybody. They are worried that if the Congress starts to add on income tests and other restrictions, such as those that the President has suggested would be fairest, it could complicate the process and slow it down considerably as a result.
This Stimulus Proposal Does Have Echoes of the Andrew Yang Campaign’s ‘Freedom Dividend’ Proposal
A thousand-dollar-a-month “Freedom Dividend” had been the centerpiece talking point of Andrew Yang’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in recent months before he dropped out of the race. What just a few weeks ago seemed like a quixotic idea may actually happen far faster than anyone ever anticipated, albeit for only one or perhaps two months, depending on how long Americans find themselves stranded at home with severely reduced job activity until the threat of the coronavirus is deemed past.
Despite the seeming similarity to Yang’s proposal, there is a big difference between a one-of stimulus check for $1,000 and the long-debated theories surrounding a “Universal Basic Income” which calls for such a program to continue month-after-month for every adult citizen in perpetuity. There are; however, a couple of precedents: In 2001 and again in 2009 the government mailed out checks to some taxpayers in order to try and directly counter the effects of a recession.
The most recent example in 2009 was part of President Barrack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and, although there were plenty of critics who said it cost too much and others who felt it provided too little stimulus, it has since been credited with successfully pulling the country out of the “Great Recession” which was underway at the time.
The checks in 2009 were sent directly to Social Security recipients and ranged from a couple of hundred dollars to just over a thousand dollars apiece but the total cost to the Treasury for that program was only $13 billion at the time, much less than the $350 billion dollars being talked about today, which would be the approximate cost of sending $1,000 to every adult American.