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Part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that passed unanimously in the Senate late on Wednesday night is an emergency universal basic income payment of $1,200 for most every adult who makes under $75,000 a year. (According to an estimate by the conservative Tax Foundation, 93.6 percent of tax-filers will receive some sort of payment.) While progressive Democrats and voices on the left have made forceful arguments for why the one-off sum is not enough, the $1,200 is an unprecedented step in U.S. politics. And like many unprecedented additions to the safety net, for many it’s unclear how the stimulus program will translate from an idea in a bill to money in Americans’ billfolds. To help understand the stopgap measure, below is a guide on how to access the $1,200 payment, and the political conversations surrounding the historic action.
How much money is the payment?
Based on 2019 tax filings, individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year are eligible for a full $1,200 check. Prorated checks will go out to those making up to $99,000 a year, with the payment decreasing by $5 for every $100 in income above $75,000. That math breaks down to $50 less for every $1,000 earned over $75,000. So a person earning $80,000 would get a check of $950; a person earning $90,000 would get a check of $450; and a person earning $98,000 would get a check of $50.
Married couples are eligible for a check of $2,400, as long as adjusted gross income is less than $150,000 a year; reduced checks will be cut for married couples earning up to $198,000. Married couples will also receive $500 for every child under 17, while parents who file as a “head of household” — a tax status usually reserved for single parents — are eligible for the $500 per child under 17 as well, and can receive the $1,200 check if they earn less than $112,500 a year. Heads of households can get prorated checks if they earn up to $136,500.
While Senate Republicans initially pushed for low-income Americans who do not earn enough to pay an income tax to receive a check of $600, that proposal was scrapped after bipartisan criticism of the questionable logic that poor people deserve less cash during an unprecedented crisis.
How and when do I get the payment?
While Americans with Social Security numbers do not need to apply to receive the payments, the Internal Revenue Service needs to already have bank-account information on file in order to send out cash via direct deposit. For those who have not received tax refunds via direct deposit, the check will be mailed out. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the direct-deposit payments would be sent out within three weeks, and that those receiving actual checks would receive them a few weeks after that.
What are some of the criticisms of the payment plan?
As the timeline for payment above suggests, Americans who do not have their bank information filed with the IRS — individuals who are more likely to earn less income — would see a significant delay before receiving their checks, which is unideal during an historic economic crisis in which 3.28 million individuals filed for unemployment just last week. There’s also the concern of those Americans who have not filed taxes in recent years: The IRS estimates that around 30 to 40 million adults, about 15 percent of the population, don’t file tax returns; many of these individuals are exempt because they do not earn enough to qualify for federal income taxes. In addition, New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted that these checks are only going to people with Social Security numbers, and not to immigrants with tax IDs.
Because the check is a one-off deal, some Senate Democrats argue that the UBI payment — together with extended unemployment benefits — is not enough to tide Americans over. While senators Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, and Sherrod Brown argued for multiple payouts based on changes in the unemployment rate, Bernie Sanders and representatives Maxine Waters, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib pushed for monthly cash injections. “$1,200 is the average rent for most Americans,” Natalie Foster, the co-chair of the pro-UBI organization the Economic Security Project, told The Guardian. “This first check is eaten up, and what are they supposed to do after that?”