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'One More Check Is Not Enough': Ilhan Omar Calls on Biden to Back Recurring Direct Payments

"We need to provide those struggling and left behind with consistent reliable cash payments during this Covid-19 crisis."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks to reporters in Statuary Hall on Capital Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks to reporters in Statuary Hall on Capital Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Warning that one additional check is nowhere near sufficient to ease the widespread suffering inflicted by the ongoing pandemic and economic collapse, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is circulating a letter urging fellow lawmakers to join her in pressuring President Joe Biden to include recurring direct payments in any future coronavirus relief package.

"The stunning financial crisis for those at the bottom of the income ladder demands massive relief to those who need it most," reads Omar's letter (pdf), which was obtained by HuffPost. "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."

"Another one-time round of checks would provide a temporary lifeline, but when that money runs out, families will once again struggle to pay for basic necessities."
—Rep. Ilhan Omar, letter
"As we look at the coming year, another one-time round of checks would provide a temporary lifeline, but when that money runs out, families will once again struggle to pay for basic necessities," the letter continues. "One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis. Many families cannot afford to wait for eight months between payments."

Omar, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) whip, is urging the newly sworn-in president to support passage of direct relief checks that continue flowing to struggling adults and dependents "until the economy recovers." The Minnesota Democrat is also stressing the need to ensure that those who were deemed ineligible for previous stimulus checks—such as many immigrants and their families—are included in the recurring payments.

"As the country begins to look towards building to a better future," the letter states, "we need to provide those struggling and left behind with consistent reliable cash payments during this Covid-19 crisis."

Last week, days before his inauguration, Biden unveiled a nearly $2 trillion relief proposal that calls for one-time direct payments of $1,400 and other key measures, including a boost to emergency unemployment benefits and an increase in nutrition assistance.

While progressives applauded Biden's plan as a solid first step, some Democratic lawmakers—including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.)—said the $1,400 checks fall short of the $2,000 payments the president promised on the campaign trail in Georgia earlier this month.

"$2,000 means $2,000," Ocasio-Cortez said last week. "$2,000 does not mean $1,400."

Along with other progressive lawmakers in the House and Senate, Omar has been demanding recurring survival checks since April, when she and other CPC members signed a letter calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to support a relief package that includes "monthly direct cash payments of at least $2,000 to every adult in the U.S., and an additional $1,000 for every child for up to a year."

According to recent polling conducted by Data for Progress, 65% of U.S. voters say they would support the federal government providing $2,000 payments per month to every American for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, 34 mayors representing from across the U.S. endorsed the progressive push for recurring checks, declaring in a full-page Washington Post ad that "our constituents deserve an income floor."

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Omar amplified the mayors' demand Thursday afternoon, tweeting, "The pain of this economic crisis is being felt by so many people."

"Let's be bold," the Minnesota Democrat added.

Read Omar's full letter:

Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris,

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 long-term lifeline to struggling Americans for the duration of this deadly pandemic.

We are experiencing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with millions of Americans either unemployed, forced out of the workforce, or facing a decline in hours and wages. Worsening systemic inequities, such as food insecurity and housing instability, are most severe for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, who are suffering higher infection and mortality rates of Covid-19 and higher unemployment levels, compared to white Americans. At the same time, many people of color are encountering reduced or stagnant incomes as frontline workers while not being able to access vital relief programs, such as unemployment insurance.

Both the CARES Act and the recently enacted relief package included a round of direct cash payments which provided critical relief to those who needed it most. Data show the CARES Act payments were the primary reason that poverty fell by as many as four million people at the start of the recession. These payments boosted the economy by increasing spending at all income levels, and the most among low-income people, who spent this infusion of disposable income primarily on food, rents, and utilities. This cash assistance was used very quickly, with lower-income individuals spending more than forty percent of their payments within the first ten days. As aid ran out, up to eight million people, disproportionately Black and Latino adults and children, were forced into poverty.

The stunning financial crisis for those at the bottom of the income ladder demands massive relief to those who need it most. 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. As we look at the coming year, another one-time round of checks would provide a temporary lifeline, but when that money runs out, families will once again struggle to pay for basic necessities. One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis. 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.

Any relief package must include recurring cash payments that:

  • Continue until the economy recovers with equal payments to adults and dependents;
  • Prioritize those who need it most and will spend it the quickest;
  • Go to all immigrant workers, refugees, and their families (both ITIN filers and mixed-status households);
  • Include older dependents such as disabled and elderly dependents and those over the age of 16 still claimed as dependents;
  • Add improved administrative outreach and communication at the state and local level to ensure families are aware of payments; and
  • Ensure the Internal Revenue Service makes automatic payments available to all eligible households with better outreach to individuals left behind in previous rounds, including the underbanked and unbanked through pre-loaded EBT cards and those who had erroneous, delayed, or missing payments through improved casework assistance.

As the country begins to look towards building to a better future, we need to provide those struggling and left behind with consistent reliable cash payments during this Covid-19 crisis. We hope that you will consider recurring cash assistance when crafting your economic policy priorities moving forward.

Thank you for your consideration,

Ilhan Omar
Member of Congress

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