Sen. Ron Wyden led a group of 10 senators on Tuesday in urging President Joe Biden to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in his "Build Back Better" recovery proposal, telling the president that "now is the time for boldness."
The measures are effective and widely supported, the letter (pdf), released Tuesday, notes.
"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," the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was spearheaded by Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee Chairman. Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also signed on. The other signatories to the letter, all Democrats, are: Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Ed Markey (Mass.) Alex Padilla (Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).
While unemployment insurance has provided a needed economic boost to millions, that support does not reach all the families severely impacted by the pandemic. The direct cash injections are thus "crucial for supporting struggling families," says the letter. What's more, recurring payments also serve as an "economic stimulus by increasing spending and supporting jobs."
To bolster their argument the senators pointed to an Urban Institute analysis from July showing that just one additional $1,200 check along with extension of unemployment benefits and boosting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits would keep 12 million people out of poverty.
The proposed one-time $1,400 checks is simply not enough, the group warns.
"Almost six in 10 people say the $1,400 payments set to be included in the rescue package will last them less than three months," the senators said.
Thank you for your leadership on automatic recurring payments during this crisis, @RonWyden!— BoldProgressives.org (@BoldProgressive) March 2, 2021
10 senators have joined together today! Let’s urge the rest to join - sign the petition: https://t.co/a5JEB1s1nc
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The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is amplifying the senators' call on social media and encouraging supporters to be "citizen cosigners" of the letter.
It's not the first time Biden has faced demands to go big with pandemic stimulus payments. In January, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) led a letter also calling on 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," the letter stated.
"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 added. "One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis. Many families cannot afford to wait for eight months between payments."
Efforts to extend an economic lifeline to struggling families is facing resistance from within the Democratic caucus, however.
A key obstacle is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a $15 minimum wage opponent who's asking Biden for a "tightening [of] income eligibility for the [one-time] $1,400 stimulus payments" and reducing the proposed weekly unemployment supplement from $400 to $300 per week.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, put that call in stark terms.
"Further 'targeting' or 'tightening' eligibility means taking survival checks away from millions of families who got them last time," Jayapal tweeted Monday.
"That's bad policy and bad politics too," she added.