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The House has just approved the next COVID relief bill in a vote of 220 yeas and 211 nays — not a single Republican representative voted in favor of it, just as not a single Republican senator voted for it last week. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) was the only Democrat to vote against it.
The final bill contains $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals making under $75,000 per year ($112,500 for heads of households and $150,000 for couples). You’ll receive less if you make over that amount, and at $80,000, the checks phase out completely for individuals, and at $120,000 for heads of households and $160,000 for couples. There will also be a $300/week federal unemployment boost that lasts up until September 2021. The first $10,200 of unemployment insurance you received is also now exempt from taxes.
When can you expect to receive your stimulus check? Right now, it’s not totally clear. But, since President Biden will probably sign the bill on Friday, payments could start as soon as next week. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that the checks should begin going out before the end of March. It’s uncertain how much, if at all, tax season will affect how quickly the IRS can distribute stimulus checks.
As with the other two stimulus checks, if you already have direct deposit set up with the IRS (for example, if you’ve received a tax return via direct deposit in the past), the process should be fairly quick. For the $600 stimulus checks, the IRS announced it had begun depositing payments within days of the bill being signed. If the IRS does not have your bank information, it will send out a paper check or debit card to the address it has on file for you. That can take longer, but you can check on the status of your check through the IRS Get My Payment portal.
This story was originally published on February 26, 2021.
According to a Twitter account called @WaitingOnBiden, today is the 38th day that President Biden has not sent $2,000 stimulus payments to Americans, something he promised he would usher out immediately after he assumed office. The last relief bill passed in December, while Trump was still president. The relief bill before that was passed in late March 2020, and now we’re just a few days away from March 2021.
The good news is that the House is finally voting on the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan today, which includes a $1,400 stimulus payment to those who fall within the income limits. It will pass in the Democrat-controlled House, and it is likely to pass in the Senate through a process called budget reconciliation, which essentially allows lawmakers to pass fiscal bills more quickly because it only requires a simple majority to pass, instead of 60 votes. Beyond the stimulus payments, the relief bill also contains a $400 per week federal unemployment boost. The current set of federal unemployment provisions are set to expire by March 14, essentially giving Congress a hard deadline by which to pass the relief bill.
While $1.9 trillion might sound like a lot, economists generally agree that the government should spend as much as it needs to help its citizens — that is its mandate, after all — without handwringing over what-ifs such as inflation or “overheating” the economy.
The bad news, though, is that a key part of the relief bill — a $15 federal minimum wage hike — will likely not be included. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled yesterday that the inclusion of a minimum wage raise broke the rules of what can and can’t be included in a reconciliation bill.
But what is a Parliamentarian, you ask? Turns out, it is not someone who only smokes Parliaments. The Parliamentarian is a non-partisan advisor who interprets rules and precedents within the Senate. It is an appointment and not an elected position. The Senate also doesn’t have to listen to the Parliamentarian’s rulings; the “presiding officer” of the Senate — in other words, the Vice President — can ignore the Parliamentarian. There’s precedent for that.
According to Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein, however, Vice President Harris will not be overruling MacDonough. That means that the minimum wage provision will be removed from the bill in the Senate and return to the House for another vote. It also means that any attempt to raise the federal minimum wage — which has not been raised since 2009 and remains at $7.25 — will need to be introduced in a standalone bill that won’t be able to pass via budget reconciliation, needing to clear the bar of 60 votes.
Top Democrats have already announced an alternate plan that would impose a 5% tax on big corporations if they don’t raise their wages and even tax credits for small businesses that do raise wages. But some economists are concerned that a tax disincentive, or tax credits, would not do enough to actually raise wages for a broad swath of workers. While many conservatives have bristled at the idea of a $15 federal minimum wage, American wages have generally remained at a standstill for decades. If the minimum wage had kept pace with workers’ productivity and inflation, it would be around $20 per hour right now.
We also need to acknowledge the huge impact a minimum wage hike would have on the people who have been most harmed by the pandemic. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently released an analysis of wages in the past year and found that average, inflation-adjusted wages in the U.S. had actually gone up in 2020. Great news, right? Wrong. The EPI found that average wages had increased because the makeup of the American workforce had changed so drastically — a huge proportion of those who lost their jobs during the pandemic were those making low wages, or around $14 per hour or less. In contrast, people making $25 per hour and above actually saw job gains overall in 2020.
With so many low-wage jobs having disappeared, we get the illusion that there’s been progress instead of a downslide. A $15 minimum wage would be life-changing to so many Americans, and its exclusion from the next stimulus bill is an enormous disappointment.
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