Coronavirus Rebate Payments Could Be A Welfare Breakthrough

Arthur Delaney

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s first draft of a coronavirus relief bill included cash payments to most Americans ― except for those who earned no money at all.

The proposal set up the payments as advance tax rebates, and tax benefits typically exclude people with no incomes.

Then something unusual happened: Democrats complained about the income requirement ― no surprise ― but so did Republicans, arguing the poorest deserve coronavirus rebates too.

“Just because they’re on the lower end of the income scale doesn’t mean they don’t have some basic expenses,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), for example.

And so the final bill had no income requirement. The legislation, signed into law less than a week ago, will allow just about every adult in the U.S. earning less than $75,000 (and every married couple earning less than $150,000) to be eligible for the full $1,200. People who’ve filed their taxes for 2018 or 2019 and set up direct deposit with the IRS should receive rebates in their bank accounts in the coming weeks. The rebates are worth $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

The coronavirus “recovery rebates” may be the first tax-based social policy that will throw cash directly to the very poorest Americans with no condition other than having to file a tax return.

It’s a “quite significant” development, said Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal D.C. think tank. He noted that the last time Congress sent everybody a stimulus check, in 2008, it excluded people with no or very low earnings.

Another reason it’s significant is that Republicans, not just Democrats, pushed to include the poorest, and that there are hints they’re more willing to do so generally. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) co-sponsored a bill in December with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) that would change the Child Tax Credit to deliver cash to people with no incomes.

“Looking at these two developments...

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