2020 candidate Kamala Harris wants to give working-class families $500 a month. Here are her other priorities

Key Points
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is running for president as a self-described "progressive prosecutor" whose chief goal will be raising incomes for working people.
  • Pollsters put her near the top of the pack, though she lags former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, who are both expected to jump into the race before long.
California Senator Kamala Harris arrvies for a rally launching her presidential campaign on January 27, 2019 in Oakland, California.
Noah Berger | AFP | Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is running for president as a self-described "progressive prosecutor" whose chief goal will be raising incomes for working people.

Pundits quickly dubbed Harris the Democrats' front-runner in a crowded primary field that features four of her Senate colleagues already. Still, in polls she lags behind former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, who are both expected to jump into the race before long.

Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, and before that served as attorney general of California, one of the most important law enforcement positions in the country. She was the first black person to hold the role, as well as the first woman, according to her campaign.

The California senator's liberal bona fides have come under scrutiny from progressives, who say that Harris supported tough-on-crime policies as a prosecutor that disproportionately hurt minorities and the poor, such as criminalizing truancy. Harris has defended her record.

Raising incomes

Her positions as a presidential candidate are clearly to the left of center.

Harris' No. 1 priority is her plan to "give working and middle class families up to $500 more per month," according to spokesman Ian Sams. In a post on Twitter, Sams said the campaign "is about raising incomes for people."

The senator introduced her $500-a-month proposal in October 2018, citing a survey that found that a majority of Americans did not have enough saved to cover an unexpected $500 expense.

Her proposal would grant $6,000 a year to families earning less than $100,000 a year, and $3,000 annually to individuals earning less than $50,000. The funds would come in the form of tax credits, and workers could choose to receive the payments in monthly installments or in one lump sum.

About half of American families would receive a tax cut, with nearly all of the cuts going to those making less than $87,000, according to the Tax Policy Center. The nonpartisan think tank said it was not clear how Harris would pay for her plan and that her current proposals to do so, including rolling back the GOP tax cuts passed in 2017, "would fall far short."

Indeed, the plan is one of the most costly Democratic proposals introduced by a contender for the presidency. Over 10 years, it would reduce federal revenue by about $2.8 trillion, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

The bill would primarily benefit the middle and working class. It would lift 9 million people out of poverty, including 3 million children, according to a calculation by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Progressives have argued that the plan neglects the poorest Americans in order to provide assistance to those "who are on the rung just above them."

But the campaign has said more proposals are on their way.

"She will continue to outline big ideas to help more Americans throughout this very long primary campaign," Sams said in an email.

Harris has also proposed legislation that would make access to housing easier for many Americans. She proposed legislation in 2018 that would enable those making less than $100,000 a year and spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent to claim tax credits to help ease their housing costs.

Medicare for All

Harris is a supporter of Medicare for All and was one of the first lawmakers to sign on to the sweeping proposal introduced by Sanders in 2017.

Last December, Harris wrote an article in The New York Times detailing her mother's struggle with and eventual death from cancer. She wrote that she was "so grateful my mother had Medicare, and I will fight for it to be guaranteed to all."

Multiple Democratic contenders have backed "Medicare for all" in some form, and how far each is willing to go will be a key policy question during the primary process.

Harris made waves by saying during a CNN town hall last month that she would support eliminating private insurers entirely. Aides later clarified that she would continue to back more moderate proposals as well, even if her first choice was the elimination of insurers.

At least four of Harris' fellow senators running or likely to run for president — including Sanders, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — have also backed "Medicare for all" proposals.

Criminal justice reform

Harris, who has served in the Senate for only about half a term, is running on her record as California's attorney general and as the district attorney of San Francisco.

While she has said that she was a "progressive prosecutor," her record has been criticized by progressives who reject that characterization, pointing to a variety of moderate or right-leaning stances she took at the time, such as her refusal while attorney general to support a bill that would have required her office to investigate fatal shootings by police.

Harris said during her CNN town hall that she did not take positions on legislation at the time, though The Washington Post identified dozens of cases where that was untrue. (A spokeswoman told the outlet that Harris misheard the question.)

Harris has said that as president she would push for reform of the cash bail system and to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Experts have said reforming the bail system and taxing marijuana sales could raise revenue.

The senator proposed her bail reform bill alongside Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in 2017.

Money bail typically requires individuals to pay for their release from jail while they await trial. Harris' Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act would encourage states to reform or replace their cash bail policies.

"In our country, whether you stay in jail or not is wholly determined by whether you're wealthy or not — and that's wrong," Harris said in a statement when she introduced the bill. "We must come together to reform a bail system that is discriminatory, wasteful, and fails to keep our communities safe."

Harris has also championed the legalization of marijuana in recent years, something she opposed while a California prosecutor. In her campaign memoir released this year, Harris wrote that she believed in "dismantling the failed war on drugs — starting with legalizing marijuana."

She has said that legalization would need to be accompanied by further research into the drug as well as a solution for regulating use of marijuana by drivers.