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But seriously: Where are the stimulus checks, Joe?

Sure, it’s only been a month, and yes, the transition was rocky, and oh boy was there ever an impeachment, but the lack of urgency on stimulus is unacceptable.

But seriously: Where are the stimulus checks, Joe?
[Photo: Lisa Ferdinando/DoD Photo/Flickr; Ruslan Lytvyn/iStock]
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The Democrats have a lot of good excuses to explain why they have not yet delivered a third round of COVID-19 stimulus checks.

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It’s only been a month. The Republicans haven’t cooperated. The previous president required some seeing-to.

Unfortunately, desperate Americans can’t feed their kids with excuses.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appears to grasp this concept, if mostly while taking digs at her colleagues across the aisle. As bipartisan talks around a proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package collapsed recently, Pelosi declared, “Americans need help. House Republicans don’t care.”

But Democrats have not yet effectively demonstrated that they care either.

They surely feel obligated to help, either from the kindness of their hearts or because it’s part of the brand they’ve cultivated. Caring, however, might be a stretch.

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If the Dems truly cared, they’d betray more understanding of the urgency shared among the eight million Americans who fell into poverty between June and November, let alone the millions more dangling over the precipice of the abyss. Many who lost jobs during the pandemic are struggling to stay healthy and sane and find a way to put food on the table in a weak job market. Their bank accounts are eroded. They can’t afford to feed their pets. Every day, they wake up to the deepest trouble of their lives.

This isn’t a situation where American families could sure use some extra money. It’s a situation where many of them are a single unpaid bill away from going unhoused—and they are absolutely begging the government to throw them a lifeline. And it was amid this sorry state of affairs that President Joe Biden promised, on January 3, that if Georgians voted for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in that week’s special election, $2,000 stimulus checks would “go out the door immediately.”

Political scientists could spend years dissecting the direct impact of this concrete promise on the outcome of that election. It was a unique situation. After a year in which Republicans seemed to force Democrats into whittling their ambitious, if possibly pork-riddled $3.4 trillion surplus package down to the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act, which ultimately fizzled out in favor of a $900 billion relief bill with a paltry $600 direct payment, all over the course of six grueling months, here was an opportunity to completely remove Republicans from the stimulus equation.

There’s little doubt that Biden’s explicit promise to end the gridlock helped put Ossoff and Warnock over the top. Imagine the relief among those who need help the most, upon hearing that nothing more stood in the way between themselves and a potentially life-changing amount of money!

Now imagine how quickly that relief curdled into disappointment when it turned out that, rather than the promised $2,000, the stimulus checks would actually amount to $1,400, and rather than “immediately,” they would arrive vaguely soon-ish. (The current earliest estimate is mid-March.)

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How could this be happening? Do the Democrats, those standard-bearers of caring, not currently control both houses of the legislature as well as the executive branch of the U.S. government?

The logic around $1,400 is baffling, for starters. Of all the moving parts in a stimulus package that could possibly use a bonsai trim, direct payments are low, if not last, on the list. The idea is ostensibly that the $1,400 would piggyback on top of December’s $600 payment to form the requisite $2,000. It’s bait-and-switch math that appears technically accurate if you squint at it—but only if the checks arrived very shortly after the first batch, rather than at least two and a half months later.

There is nothing to be gained from this kind of penny-pinching right now, especially when other countries such as Canada are paying citizens that same $2,000 every month to stay home. This is a pandemic, and money isn’t real. This isn’t the time for wasting precious days targeting payments. It’s the time to focus on the survival of millions of Americans at a time when 500,000 have already died from COVID-19.

Any lawmaker whose fear of impoverished people not getting money they need is superseded by a fear of non-impoverished people getting money they don’t need is probably a sociopath and should not be making laws.

Part of the reason the bill has ultimately taken so long—and part of the reason the direct payments are so modest—is because Biden and the Dems hoped to pass COVID-19 relief with bipartisan support. Not only would inviting Republicans to the table in good faith offer up some of that unity Biden campaigned on, but it would also speed up the deal, as the only alternative with such a slim Senate margin—passing the bill through budget reconciliation—is a longer, more complicated process than a floor vote.

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However, it’s been clear for at least a month now that Republicans will not be wooed by the temptation of helping Biden get a win, no matter how many needlessly suffering individuals would also get a win from it. (Read: survive.) Even the most moderate of Republicans seems bewildered by the proposed bill.

The moment that it became clear that Senator Collins seemed beyond reach, back in January, the freshly sworn-in Biden should have focused on the task of whipping the most conservative Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, and getting on with it. (He was officially on board as of February 2.)

As we head into late February of 2021, the Democrats finally appear on the brink of approving a stimulus package, and with it a third round of checks. Beyond direct payments, the proposed bill would renew federal unemployment benefits, increase funds for distributing COVID-19 vaccines, and possibly increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and unload some student loan debt. (But not too much student debt, though! Anything but that!) It’s a bold, muscular bill that enjoys broad bipartisan support from the American public.

But seriously, where are the damn checks already?

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Is this really the foot the Biden administration wants to put forward walking into this term? Sure, it’s only been a month, but that recency is dwindling by the minute. The people who lost their livelihood through no fault of their own and are struggling for subsistence after only receiving a grand total of $1,800 from the government during a pandemic—those people can’t be expected to wait until mid-March. I’m not even sure what waiting is supposed to look like when one’s best option for getting by is starting a GoFundMe.

Mid-March may seem soon enough for most politicians, but anyone barely scraping by is bound to feel the edge of every second of it.

If Democrats aren’t afraid of letting those people go through the wringer some more, they should at least be afraid of how long those people will remember that it happened.