WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As President Joe Biden seeks bipartisan backing for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan that includes $1,400 stimulus checks, some Democratic lawmakers are calling for monthly payments of $2,000 “for the duration of this deadly pandemic.”
According to a signed letter sent to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and over 50 other House members sought support from the Biden administration for the proposal.
“One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis,” according to the letter signed by leading House progressives, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
“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,” they wrote.
While the letter didn’t specify a recurring payment amount, Omar in a tweet Thursday suggested “monthly recurring survival checks” of $2,000 per month until the pandemic is over.
“We must meet this moment and deliver transformative change,” she said.
Supporters say nationwide financial hardship remains widespread 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has staggered the U.S. economy.
“We are experiencing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with millions of Americans unemployed, forced out of the workforce, or facing a decline in hours and wages,” the letter said.
To ease the burden that many low- and middle-class families are experiencing, the federal government so far has issued two rounds of direct stimulus payments: $1,200 for eligible adults last spring and $600 per person earlier this month.
Earlier this week, Biden indicated he’s open to negotiating who receives a check — meaning the direct payments may be more targeted to lower-income Americans than Biden’s original plan.
The last round of $600 stimulus checks was limited to individuals earning less than $75,000 a year and married couples earning less than $150,000.
New research suggests that targeting the payments could be a benefit. Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit research organization, reports families earning around $75,000 are likely to quickly spend the funds, thereby helping to stimulate the economy. On the other hand, those who make more than $75,000 usually put it into savings, indicating the money wasn’t urgently needed, researchers say.
On Sunday, the Biden administration met privately with a bipartisan group of 16 senators, mostly centrists, who were among those instrumental in crafting and delivering the most recent round of COVID-19 aid. The ability to win over that coalition, led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will be central to any path, a test-run for working with Congress on a bipartisan basis.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats could pass the plan as soon as next week, saying families and businesses in need can’t wait.
“We want it to be bipartisan always but we can’t surrender,” she said.
The majority of Republicans are balking at the current price tag and call provisions in the plan flawed.
“Too much of the money is not directly going to the people who need it the most,” Sen. Roger Marshall said, pointing specifically to additional $1,400 stimulus checks, a minimum wage increase and billions for local and state governments.
February likely is the earliest that a package would be approved, while some analysts are predicting it could be mid-March.
Once approved, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which has improved the processing speed substantially, could distribute checks in a matter of days.
There is some concern that impeachment proceedings against outgoing President Donald Trump could delay the process. It’s expected that his trial in the Senate would begin within the next few weeks.
The coronavirus relief plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 430,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and recent government numbers reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
Under Biden’s plan, about $400 billion would go toward combating the pandemic, while the rest is aimed at economic relief and aid to states and localities. About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion Congress already approved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.