In a matter of weeks, Americans will begin to receive direct payments from the Internal Revenue Service. At $1,400 per household member, the checks are the biggest yet ― a family of four that reported less than $150,000 of earnings on its last tax return can expect a check for $5,600.
The IRS has practice sending checks from previous pandemic relief bills. But the agency will also have to figure out how to forgive taxes on federal unemployment benefits paid last year, and it faces the monumental task of transforming a little-known child tax credit into a recurring payment program for the majority of American households with children.
“The administrative detail now is going to be a bit of a challenge, but IRS knows where we’re headed on it, and they understand the mission here so I think that they’ve indicated they think that they can accomplish a lot of it,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and a lead author of the bill’s tax provisions, told HuffPost.
The one-year expansion of the child tax credit, a policy change Democrats hope to make permanent, could be the most consequential part of the bill. It’s just one of a plethora of different beneficial provisions that Democrats will try to publicize in the coming weeks.
Already, Democratic lawmakers are holding calls and press conferences with media outlets in their home states to inform constituents about the bill’s contents. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will address the nation in his first prime-time address on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of coronavirus shutdowns. He is scheduled to sign the bill into law on Friday.
The $1.9 trillion bill is a signature legislative achievement for Biden, but the president has opted against adding his signature to the millions of checks the IRS will soon distribute to the majority of U.S. households. Former President Donald Trump made sure the two previous rounds of direct payments bore his name, but the White House said this week that adding Biden’s name would slow distribution.
“I think that that demonstrates presidential leadership that’s about humility and service and not vanity,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) told HuffPost at a press conference featuring all members of Georgia’s congressional delegation on Wednesday. “The people of Georgia will know that it was this team and this White House that delivered this legislation.”
If it weren’t for Ossoff and fellow Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who together gave Democrats control of the Senate by winning a pair of runoff elections in January, there would probably be no checks at all, as Republicans soured on the idea of another big relief bill.
The bill also includes an extension of federal unemployment benefits through August, hundreds of billions in aid to state and local governments, tens of billions for struggling renters and homeowners, tens of billions for the child care industry, $25 billion for bars and restaurants, and billions to help distribute coronavirus vaccines.
For Democrats, making sure voters know who sent the money isn’t just vanity. It’s making sure voters remember who delivered cash to millions of Americans suffering from the pandemic when the 2022 midterm elections come around. The party is hoping to avoid one of its biggest mistakes after the passage of the 2009 stimulus bill, which former President Barack Obama signed into law: failing to sufficiently make voters aware of the benefits. The next year, Democrats got crushed in the 2010 midterm elections, losing the House by a wide margin.
“We are going to make sure people in our states know” about the bill, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told HuffPost. “I’ve already had calls, I’m doing interviews all weekend, the president will be ― we all will be. We want to make sure people know what’s in the package so that people get the help they need.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Americans are “pretty well sold” on the aid bill already, pointing to surveys that show overwhelming support for the measure. He said he plans to spend time speaking about lesser-known parts of the package, such as its $17 billion investment in broadband infrastructure and support for health care providers.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) highlighted the child tax credit changes on Wednesday.
“We expanded the child tax credit to provide up to $3,000 per child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under the age of 6, for an overwhelming majority of families in this country,” Schumer said. “Analysts predict that this policy will cut childhood poverty in half. In half ― that’s an astounding statistic.”
The bill tells the IRS to distribute the credit in advance as a “periodic” payment, essentially creating a child allowance like many other countries offer parents. The policy will be a major undertaking for the IRS, which will receive nearly half a billion dollars for its implementation. The agency will have authority to adjust withholding tables that workers use to have federal income tax withheld from their paychecks, and it will need to set up a system for dealing with repayment of excess benefits.
If paid monthly, benefits would amount to $250 per child age 6 to 17 and $300 per child under 6 for two-income households that earned less than $150,000 on their last tax return. But even households earning as much as $400,000 could qualify for smaller payments, since they remain eligible for an annual child credit worth $2,000.
“I think people are going to be very pleasantly surprised when they see the child tax credit and the fact that they will be getting essentially bonus checks to support their family based on how many children they have,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost. “So I think really aggressively messaging the specific tangible aspects of this bill that everyday people can see and feel is what’s most important.”
Republicans unanimously voted against the bill over concerns about deficits and wasteful spending. But they acknowledge their arguments have failed to convince even a majority of Republican voters given popular elements such as another round of direct payments.
Their allies in conservative media, meanwhile, have spent far more attention on culture war issues such as Dr. Seuss books rather than the bill itself. Part of the problem for fiscal conservatives is that the GOP supported trillions in new spending under Trump and that their base voters aren’t as animated by deficits as they were in 2010.
GOP lawmakers have simply dismissed the bill’s favorable polling, even though several surveys have shown that even majorities of Republican voters like the legislation. Of course, it’s not a new thing for elected Republicans to shrug at the economic liberalism of some of their own voters.
“Run a poll and say would you like the government to send you a big check. My guess is it’s going to poll pretty well,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Wednesday. “But why are we sending checks to people who’ve never missed a paycheck?”
Republicans are making a risky bet that voters either won’t care or simply won’t remember which party sent them a pile of new money (as was the case in 2010). After all, the 2022 campaign season is still many months away, and new issues are likely to dominate the conversation in Washington.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said Republicans are only helping Democrats by trashing the bill.
“They’re going out of their way to make sure they tell everybody that they’re against it,” Kildee said. “So, in a lot of ways, they’re doing the work of both parties and explaining who’s responsible for this.”