Democrats Face Major Uncertainty About Checks For Parents In Relief Bill

The "American Rescue Plan" might fail to deliver monthly cash to parents as Democrats have envisioned.

Democrats trumpeted new polling Thursday showing that their proposal for greater tax credits for parents is so popular, even 60% of Republicans approve.

At the same time, they admitted they don’t know if parents will receive the credit as a monthly benefit or if the extra money will be available in future years.

“It’s not clear yet” if the monthly payments will remain in the bill, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told HuffPost.

Most parents would get hundreds of dollars per child, per month, from the tax credit changes in the “American Rescue Plan” legislation that Democrats are drafting in the House of Representatives.

But the monthly payments could hit a snag in the Senate, as they may run afoul of Senate rules against doing certain types of policy in the special “budget reconciliation” process. Democrats are using reconciliation to pass the bill with only 50 votes, instead of the usual 60 needed to break a filibuster.

Senators said Thursday that the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, might strike the monthly payment feature this week by deeming it improper according to obscure Senate rules.

“We don’t think that she will,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said. “We don’t know.”

Other provisions would remain, including an increase of the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for this year. The bill would also eliminate the requirement that parents earn a certain amount of money in order to qualify.

“As soon as we pass the Recovery Act, we will fight to make it permanent and to make sure they can get the checks monthly if they choose,” Brown said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) speaks to members of the media, March 12, 2020.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) speaks to members of the media, March 12, 2020.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The extra money for parents is a small part of the bill, which includes one-time payments of $1,400 for most households, a continuation of extra unemployment benefits, and money for schools. Democrats are looking to pass the bill before mid-March, when the latest extension of federal unemployment benefits will begin to expire.

In his original outline of the bill, President Joe Biden called for expanding the child tax credit for just one year, and omitted the monthly payments. Despite the omissions, congressional Democrats said Biden had essentially embraced the American Family Act, a 2019 bill by Brown and Bennet that would distribute the benefits monthly and slash child poverty.

Monthly benefits would essentially be a child allowance, a policy that most other advanced countries use to make life easier for parents and reduce poverty among their children.

Even if it came as a lump sum payment at tax time, instead of as a monthly benefit, the extra money would still lift millions of low-income families out of poverty, according to the annual poverty rate calculation the U.S. government uses to measure deprivation.

“This is one of the things in our bill Democrats are most proud of,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday, adding that it “would do more to eliminate poverty than anything in a long time.”

Sixty-eight percent of voters favor expanding the tax credit, according to a poll released Thursday by Data for Progress, which asked about raising the child credit from $2,000 to $3,600.

Democrats said they want the greater credits to remain in place beyond 2021, but Congress can usually pass a reconciliation bill once per fiscal year. If they don’t change the rules of the Senate, Democrats may need to find 10 Republicans willing to go along with another bill to make the changes permanent.

Some Republican senators, such as Mike Lee (Utah), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), have said they favor a greater child tax credit, but Lee and Rubio dislike the idea of a monthly payment or eliminating the earnings requirement.

Still, Democrats said they think they can get Republicans to go along.

“We’re really confident that Congress is not going to want to double the child poverty rate in this country,” Bennet said.

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