A day before President Joe Biden is set to unveil the first part of his Build Back Better package, Democratic senators are pushing for recurring stimulus checks and automatic unemployment insurance extensions based on economic conditions to be included in the package.
"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," 21 senators wrote in a letter to the president that was signed on Tuesday (though a draft version circulated in early March). "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 effort is led by Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who posted the letter. Twenty senators signed on, including Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) among others.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue package was signed into law on March 11 and includes $1,400 stimulus payments and $300 weekly unemployment benefit supplements. The Democratic proposal looks to build on that and make such payments automatic in the future by tying them to economic indicators like the unemployment rate.
Wyden has been pushing for additional unemployment benefits to be tied to economic conditions. Previously, progressives including Sanders have called for $2,000 monthly direct payments during the pandemic.
"These two forms of payments are effective together," the letter said. "Unemployment insurance has replaced lost income for millions who have lost their jobs... Direct payments are crucial for supporting struggling families who aren’t reached by unemployment insurance."
The effectiveness of those two relief provisions and their popularity among the public are two other reasons lawmakers are pushing for these so-called automatic stabilizers to become law.
"Automatic stabilizers will give families certainty that more relief is coming, allowing them to make the best decisions about how to spend their relief payments as they receive them," the letter said. "Families shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ll have enough money to pay for essentials in the months ahead as the country continues to fight a global pandemic."
Jobless workers saw an unemployment benefits cliff at the end of July when the extra $600 of weekly unemployment benefits expired, and again in September when the extra $300 under the Lost Wages Assitance expired. Additionally, millions saw delays in their unemployment benefits after the $900 billion and the $1.9 trillion stimulus deals were signed into law in December 2020 and March 2021 respectively.
"As you have said, now is the time for boldness," the letter said. "As you prepare your Build Back Better plan for long-term economic recovery, know that we are ready to work with you in support of recurring direct checks and extended unemployment insurance benefits to support Americans who are still struggling during the pandemic."