Bennet, Senate Democrats Unveil Emergency Cash-Assistance Plan

Senator Michael Bennet at a town-hall meeting on November 29.
Senator Michael Bennet at a town-hall meeting on November 29. Kenneth Hamblin III
It's an idea that many in the halls of power would have laughed out of the room just a few short weeks ago: Rather than trying to offer economic relief in the form of complicated tax-rebate schemes or low-interest financing options, why not just give everybody a bunch of money?

But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the country and around the world, that's exactly what a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, is now proposing. Under a plan unveiled by Bennet's office today, March 18, nearly every American would receive an immediate $2,000 cash payment, and then a series of smaller payments as long as the crisis continues.

"Over the course of just one week, most of America went from business-as-usual to a virtual shutdown," reads a letter sent by the plan's backers to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. "Workers have seen their hours cut or eliminated entirely, and millions of American families are assessing how they will weather a potentially long-lasting economic paralysis.

"We must provide direct cash support to the American workers and families who need it most — to help them purchase essentials; pay the rent, mortgage, and bills; and otherwise weather the coming weeks and months," the letter continues.

Drafted by Democrats including Bennet, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker over the last few days, the cash-assistance plan would immediately send American tax filers a payment totaling $2,000 for every adult and child in their household, with a gradual phase-out for taxpayers whose income is above an as-yet-unspecified threshold.

A second payment this summer could be as high as $1,500 per person, and would be triggered if emergency declarations by federal authorities continue, or if national unemployment rises by one percentage point — an outcome that seems highly likely, given the flood of jobless claims reported in the days since bars, restaurants and entertainment venues began to shut down nationwide. Quarterly payments of $1,000 would continue as long as unemployment levels are elevated.

The proposal is one of several floated in Washington in recent days that would involve direct cash transfers to American workers, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin endorsing the idea on March 17. Democratic senators urged congressional leadership to act quickly on a relief package as the economic impact of the crisis continues to accelerate.

"We believe it is essential to provide assistance directly and quickly," the senators wrote. "Regardless of how fast Congress acts, there will be a lag between action and support arriving to workers and businesses, and every day we delay action will be a delay in support arriving."
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff