Biden Agrees to Limit Eligibility for Next Round of Stimulus Checks

The Biden administration agreed to cut off direct payments for Americans making over $80,000 a year, after House lawmakers set the cap at $100,000.

President Joe Biden holds a face mask after speaking about efforts to combat Covid-19 in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday. Vice President Kamala Harris is at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Just before the Senate convened for a procedural vote on the Biden administration’s Covid-19 relief bill Wednesday, the president agreed to restrict eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks included in the legislation.

Under the new plan, phase out for the amount of money in the checks begins at an individual income level of $75,000 and those who make above $80,000 won’t get a check at all.

By comparison, the version of the bill passed by the House early Saturday morning allowed people making up to $100,000 to get some money, with checks also starting to phase out beginning at $75,000 annual income.  

The Senate bill will also lower the income cap for married couples qualifying for stimulus checks from $200,000 to $160,000.

Enhanced unemployment benefits are expected to remain at $400 per week through August, as President Joe Biden has so far rejected an effort to lower that amount.  

Limiting who gets stimulus checks is what Republicans have called a targeted approach to need. Early last month, 10 Republican senators asked Biden to pare back the payments themselves from $1,400 to $1,000 and argued phase outs should start with Americans making $40,000 a year.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday that the new targeted plan is evidence against Republican characterizations of the bill being “a liberal wish list.” The legislation includes a litany of bipartisan amendments, including the reduction of eligibility for stimulus checks, Schumer noted, saying the bill is an American wish list.

Other amendments include a provision to help restaurants – sponsored by Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a Democrat, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, a Republican – as well as the creation of public awareness program for vaccine information. That amendment was sponsored by Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.

“It should come as no surprise that support of the American Rescue Plan is coming from all over the country,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Hundreds of business leaders – not the most liberal bunch – have urged Congress to pass this bill. More than 435 mayors and state leaders, Democrats and Republicans, have said the same: they want the bill.”

The Senate could take a procedural vote as soon as Wednesday to open debate on the relief bill. It could be passed by the end of the week.

Schumer warned lawmakers against doing too little to boost the U.S. economy, a mistake he said occurred in response to the 2008 recession. While the economy has shown some resiliency throughout virus-driven lockdowns, he said that was in part due to the Senate’s passage of several stimulus bills last year.

“We did a bill in March and the May and June numbers looked pretty good, but then sunk again over the summer and fall,” Schumer said. “We did a bill in December. The January numbers look pretty good. But that is not evidence that the economy is able to sustain things on its own, that is evidence the federal government needs to continue its role to get us back on track.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his opposition to the bill had to do with how funds were being spent, saying it amounted to a “vast catalogue of liberal spending with basically no relationship whatsoever to beating Covid-19.”

“For example, they want to send wheelbarrows of cash to state and local bureaucrats to bail out mismanagement from before the pandemic,” the Kentucky Republican said. “They’re changing the previous bipartisan funding formula in ways that will especially bias the money toward big, blue states.”

McConnell said Democrats were also being disingenuous on the immediate need for economic relief because most of the funding provisions included in the bill rolls out millions in funding at an annual rate rather than immediately doling out a locality’s fully allotted money.  

“Agriculture-related funds would trickle out over the next – listen to this – over the next decade,” McConnell said. “Doesn’t sound very urgent to me. What the American people need are fast-acting plans to get schools reopened now, get laid-off workers back into jobs and finish the fight against this virus right now.”

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