Dec. 30 (UPI) — The federal government on Wednesday began mailing out COVID-19 stimulus checks worth $600 for most Americans, amid ongoing efforts to raise the amount to $2,000 after Senate Republicans scuttled an attempt to do it immediately.
The $600 amount was part of the $900 billion coronavirus relief package negotiated in Congress for months and signed by President Donald Trump on Sunday.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said late Tuesday that the government has already begun sending the money into Americans’ accounts, via direct deposit, and that paper checks would begin to go out Wednesday.
The direct infusions of cash will continue to be deposited and sent through the mail into next week, Mnuchin said.
The payments are the second direct aid sent to Americans as a result of the health crisis. The first, in the amount of $1,200, were given out in April after Congress passed the initial relief package, the CARES Act. House Democrats passed a second round of aid in May, but the Senate never considered the bill and insisted on dramatically reduced spending — a split that delayed a new round of aid until lawmakers struck a compromise earlier this month.
“This second round of payments will provide critical economic support to those who, through no fault of their own, have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mnuchin said in a statement late Tuesday.
“These payments are an integral part of our commitment to providing vital additional economic relief to the American people during this unprecedented time.”
Mnuchin added that the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service are “working with unprecedented speed” to deliver the payments.
Similar to the first payments early this year, the new $600 amount will be sent to all eligible Americans and $1,200 will be given for married couples. There will be an additional $600 per child.
All Americans who made up to $75,000 in 2019, or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly, will receive the full amount. The qualifying income figures are determined by recipients’ 2019 federal tax return.
For those above the income threshold, the amount will gradually reduce up to a limit of $87,000 for individuals and $174,000 for married couples. Those who make more will not receive a payment.
Although the new stimulus payments are going out, it’s still possible the amount could be raised to $2,000 per person — an increase demanded by both Trump and congressional Democrats, but resisted by a number of Republicans in both chambers.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday attempted to quickly pass a standalone bill, the CASH Act, to raise the payment amount so Americans could start receiving much-needed fiscal aid, but were blocked by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Several other GOP senators later supported McConnell’s move to block the increase, arguing the additional amount is unnecessary and excessive.
“Congress should continue helping workers who’ve lost their jobs. But blindly borrowing more than $600 billion so we can send $2,000 checks to millions of people who haven’t lost any income is terrible policy,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., tweeted. “I won’t consent to a vote on that.”
On the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell said he would not give in to Democratic pressure to increase the payments, saying that Congress needs to deliver “smart targeted aid. Not another firehose of money.”
“The Senate’s not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” he said.
McConnell, however, did agree to consider raising the payments to $2,000 — but attached two unrelated provisions to the measure, a proposal to repeal a law that shields social media platforms from legal liability over users’ content and creating an election fraud commission.
Both of the attachments are items Trump has pushed aggressively in recent weeks. The first involves Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the other is related to Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“The Senate is not going to split apart the three issues that President Trump linked together,” McConnell said.
Attaching those issues to the $2,000 stimulus raise, lawmakers and experts say, virtually guarantees they will be opposed by Democrats and the attempt to give Americans more money will fail.
“Sen. McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement late Tuesday.
“If Sen. McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country, it will not pass the House and cannot become law,” Schumer said.
“Any move like this by Sen. McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check.”
The issue of the raise has been a thorny one for the Republican Party, which is trying to hang onto control of the Senate. Two runoff elections in Georgia next week will determine which party has control of the upper chamber in the 117th Congress, which will be seated on Sunday.