Democrats’ Plan Offers $1,400 Stimulus Checks at Same Income Levels as Previous Rounds
Washington, DC, February 8, 2021 | Richard Rubin and Andrew Duehren, The Wall Street Journal
House Democrats released the biggest piece of their coronavirus relief bill late Monday, offering a measure that would extend a $400-a-week unemployment insurance payment through Aug. 29 and send $1,400 per-person payments to most households without lowering the income thresholds from earlier rounds.
Democrats have been debating whether to reduce those income levels, but the version headed for a Ways and Means Committee vote this week gives the full amounts to individuals with incomes up to $75,000 and married couples with incomes up to $150,000. The legislation also expands the child tax credit, broadens child-care assistance and bolsters tax credits for health insurance.
It will be combined with pieces advancing through other House committees with the aim of getting through the full House later this month. Together, the measures make up President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid plan, which Democrats are trying to push quickly through Congress.
“Our nation is struggling, the virus is still not contained, and the American people are counting on Congress to meet this moment with bold, immediate action,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.), the committee chairman whose panel will begin considering the bill on Wednesday.
Other sections of the relief plan will provide $130 billion in funding for K-12 schools, $40 billion for colleges and universities and $39 billion for child-care providers. Mr. Biden has also proposed offering funds for vaccine distribution, unemployment programs and state and local governments, among other measures.
The legislation will also incorporate a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour, though some Democrats, including Mr. Biden, have questioned whether it would be possible to pass in the final legislation.
There are some changes from the president’s framework: The unemployment insurance extension goes through Aug. 29 instead of the end of September. And it doesn’t include provisions that Democrats have discussed that would tie further aid to economic conditions instead of set dates.
Portions of the bill began to emerge on Monday, with House committees expected to release and mark up their sections of the legislation over the course of the week.
One of the largest pieces is the $1,400 payments, which are similar to the $1,200 checks issued after the March economic-relief law and the $600 payments issued after December’s law.
This round of payments would total $422 billion.
There are some key differences, however. This time around, children and adult dependents would be eligible for the full $1,400. Those adult dependents, including disabled adults and college students, haven’t been previously eligible.
A married couple with two children under 17 would get as much as $5,600, compared with $3,400 from the first round of payments and $2,400 in the second round. A single parent with a college student would get up to $2,800, compared with $1,200 from the first round and $600 in the second round.
Compared with previous versions, the payments phase out faster as incomes rise, responding to lawmakers’ concerns about higher-income households possibly getting money. According to a committee summary, individual payments go to zero once individual income reaches $100,000 and married couples’ payments go to zero when income hits $200,000.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), a centrist Democrat whose support will be key to passing the legislation, had called for the payments to begin phasing down at $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples. He said Monday that he would study the House bill. “I’m going to look at it, as long as we’re targeting to people that really need it,” he said.
Democrats from more expensive areas praised the move. “Working families in high-cost regions like the Bay Area are counting on the next round of economic impact payments and should not be left behind,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), who worked with Ways and Means member Mike Thompson (D., Calif.) to keep the $75,000 and $150,000 levels.
The payments would be based on 2019 or 2020 incomes, so households who want the Internal Revenue Service to use their 2020 information because their income declined that year have an incentive to file their tax returns quickly before the payments go out.
They could also get supplemental payments this year after they file their 2020 returns.
People who don’t get the full payments they are owed using 2021 information would be able to claim the rest on their 2021 tax returns early next year. As before, the payments aren’t taxable, and people generally don’t have to repay money they receive even if their income rises beyond the eligibility range.
Democrats are proceeding with a legislative tool called reconciliation, which allows them to pass the relief plan without Republican support in the Senate. But that process constrains what policy provisions lawmakers can pass, possibly endangering the $15 minimum-wage increase for which progressives have pushed.
“Our focus should be on crushing the virus and rebuilding our economy,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. “Unfortunately, the bill placed before us at this late hour doesn’t fit that effort.”
The legislation also includes a significant increase in the child tax credit for 2021 only, offering $3,000 per child instead of $2,000, and $3,600 for children under age 6. In addition, parents of 17-year-olds would be eligible. The credit would be fully refundable, which means households can get the full benefit even if they have no income or owe no income taxes.
The full expanded credit would be available to individuals making up to $75,000 and married couples making up to $150,000. Households making above those amounts wouldn’t lose any of the $2,000-per-child credit that already exists.
The credit expansion is a down payment on Democrats’ antipoverty plans, and many lawmakers in the party want to make a near-universal child allowance a permanent part of the tax system. The IRS would begin making monthly payments of the expanded child tax credit as early as July, giving families their money for the 2021 tax year well ahead of the tax-filing season that starts in January 2022. Families would be able to opt out of the monthly payments.
Mr. Neal’s plan would also expand the earned-income tax credit, the wage subsidy for low-income workers. In particular, it would boost the amounts available to childless workers in 2021. Tax credits for paid leave and for pandemic-affected employers that retain their workers would also get extended.
He would also expand the tax credit for child and dependent care, taking the maximum credit to 50% of expenses, so that a family with one child can get up to $4,000 and a family with two children could get $8,000. More low-income and middle-income households would get the full amounts, while high-income households would no longer benefit.
That credit would start phasing out right at $400,000 of income. High-income households could benefit from another dependent-care provision, which would more than double the maximum set aside in a tax-preferred flexible spending account to $10,500 for 2021.
Mr. Neal didn’t include a provision progressives wanted that would have clawed back business tax breaks Congress approved last year. And he didn’t propose adjusting the cap on the state and local tax deduction.
He did propose repealing a corporate-tax provision that gives U.S.-based multinationals flexibility in how they treat their interest expenses, raising $22 billion over a decade. The proposal would also increase tax credits to people who buy Affordable Care Act health plans in 2021 and 2022 to reduce their premiums.
The proposal also extends a federal program that provides unemployment benefits to people who exhaust their state-level benefits. The program, which is currently set to expire in mid-March, would last through the end of August.