President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law on Thursday, March 11th, and while some of the $1,400 stimulus checks approved by the bill began hitting bank accounts as early as last Friday, the vast majority of eligible Americans received their payments on Wednesday, March 17th. In fact, the IRS and Treasury Department announced that they disbursed 90 million payments via direct deposit on Wednesday, with a combined value of over $242 billion. The Treasury has also mailed around 150,000 paper checks.
Back on March 15th, Biden pledged to hit two major goals within the next ten days: 100 million vaccine doses in arms and 100 million stimulus checks delivered. Considering the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker has the US at over 113 million shots administered as of March 18th, it seems like the president is going to accomplish his goals, but now that tens of millions of Americans have received their stimulus checks, some are wondering what comes next.
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As contentious as the battle over $1,400 stimulus checks was, it seems unlikely that another round of direct payments is in the cards, but that isn’t going to stop Democrats from fighting for more aid. Back in January, Rep. Ihlan Omar (D-MN) sent a letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris requesting more relief:
We are appreciative of your ongoing work to make sure the American people receive survival checks as soon as possible, and it was very encouraging to see the inclusion of direct cash assistance in your current economic rescue plan. However, it is clear that during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history that we must take additional unprecedented action. We kindly request that your incoming administration consider including support for recurring cash payments in your future economic relief plans. Recurring payments would provide a longterm lifeline to struggling Americans for the duration of this deadly pandemic.
Then, early this month, a group of Senate Democrats including Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter of their own with a similar request:
We urge you to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in your Build Back Better long-term economic plan. 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. Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions.
Recurring payments were never going to be part of this relief package, but President Biden’s Build Back Better plan is a long-term plan, as the senators say in their letter. The problem is that Democrats had to scrap and claw to get these checks out, and also had to lower the threshold of eligibility to get all 50 Senate Democrats on board.
Even if every Democrat were to support more direct payments, the budget reconciliation process (which allows major bills to pass with a simple majority) can only be used once per fiscal year. So if the Democrats want to send out more checks before October 1st, 2021 (which is when the new fiscal year begins), they’ll need 10 Senate Republicans on their side. Based on what we’ve seen from the current Senate, that seems unlikely.
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