Ed Markey wants to boost coronavirus relief payments — and make them monthly

"The scale of our response must match the scale of this crisis."

Boston, MA  3/15/2020  Addressing concerns about the coronavirus, Senator Ed Markey (cq) holds a press conference in the lobby of the JFK Building.  (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff) Reporter:  Gal Tziperman Lotan
Sen. Ed Markey during a press conference in March. –Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

The federal government has delivered more than two-thirds of the roughly 175 million direct payments meant to help Americans weather the financial blow of the coronavirus pandemic.

But according to Sen. Ed Markey, a “single check is not sufficient.”

The Massachusetts senator joined Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders on Friday to propose a dramatic expansion of the current coronavirus relief payment program, which sent one-time payments of $1,200 to Americans making less than $75,000 a year (and lesser amounts to those earning up to $99,000).

The bill proposed by Harris, Markey, and Sanders would send a monthly $2,000 check to every individual with an income below $100,000 during the COVID-19 crisis.

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The recurring monthly payments would retroactively begin in March and continue until three months after President Donald Trump’s administration has declared an end to the public health emergency.

The $2,000 payments would gradually phase out in 10 percent increments for those with annual incomes between $100,000 and $120,000. Individuals making above that threshold wouldn’t be eligible, with the exception of single parents making up to $150,000.

Married couples who file jointly would receive $4,000 a month, if they make less than $200,000 a year. Parents would also receive $2,000 per child for up to three children claimed as dependents on their tax return (the current program sent $500 per child, with no limits).

Undocumented immigrants would not be eligible for the payments.

The proposal follows the historic $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which included the one-time direct payments to most individuals, as well as a $600 boost to weekly unemployment benefits and forgivable loan programs for businesses. However, as the pandemic wreaks unprecedented economic damage, gaps have been identified in each of those programs.

Markey says direct cash assistance is the best way to make sure that no one in need gets left behind; the program would also use information from federal and state agencies to ensure that individuals who haven’t recently filed a tax return or don’t have a social security number get a payment.

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“Providing recurring monthly payments is the most direct and efficient mechanism for delivering economic relief to those most vulnerable in this crisis, particularly low-income families, immigrant communities, and our gig and service workers,” the Malden Democrat said in a statement.

While the CARES Act provided “important” aid, Harris and Sanders added that a single check of $1,200 was not “nearly enough” to cover recurring expenses like food and rent, amid what is expected to be a years-long economic recovery. The three senators and more than 50 other congressional Democrats previously pressed party leaders on the idea of recurring direct payments in early April, and Sanders first floated monthly $2,000 payments back in March.

“Bills will continue to come in every single month during the pandemic and so should help from government,” Harris said Friday.

The new proposal comes amid a raft of differing, if like-minded, direct payment proposals from Democrats. Reps. Ro Khanna and Tim Ryan have similarly proposed a $2,000 monthly payment to Americans over the age of 16 “until employment returns to pre-COVID-19 levels.” Back in March, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who is running to unseat Markey in this year’s Senate primary, proposed annual direct payments of $4,000 for individuals making less than $100,000 (and $2,000 for those making more) until the economic effects of the crisis have subsided.

However, with a Republican-controlled White House and Senate, it remains unclear if there will by any additional — let alone monthly — direct payments. Many Republicans, including those in leadership positions, have voiced opposition to a second round of checks. Trump and his economic adviser Kevin Hassett said last month that they were considering the idea.

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The Labor Department reported Friday morning that more than 20.5 million jobs were lost in April, sending the unemployment rate — which was at a half-century low in February — to levels unseen since the Great Depression. In a tweet, Markey called on Congress to act proportionately.

“The scale of our response must match the scale of this crisis,” he wrote.


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