Personal Finance

As House Democrats push for $1,400 stimulus checks, deciding who qualifies could change

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Key Points
  • The House of Representatives is moving forward with parts of the coronavirus relief bill, including $1,400 stimulus checks.
  • Some lawmakers have called for restricting those payments to people with lower incomes.
  • But the process through the Senate may prevent dramatic changes, one expert says.
Stimulus checks printed at the Philadelphia Financial Center in Philadelphia.
Jeff Fusco | Getty Images

As a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package comes together on Capitol Hill, millions of additional direct payments to Americans could be in the works.

Legislation under discussion includes $1,400 stimulus checks that could bring the total direct payments sent to Americans in recent months to $2,000.

The $1,400 sums would go to adults, as well as children and adult dependents.

To qualify, individuals and families would have to have income within certain ranges.

Individuals with adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 and married couples with up to $150,000 stand to get full payments. Those with incomes above that level would see their payments reduced and ultimately phase out at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 per couple.

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The thresholds for qualifying for the money have been hotly contested among both Democrats and Republicans.

Certain lawmakers from both parties have complained the thresholds are too high. One Republican proposal called for capping the payments at $50,000 in annual income for individuals and $100,000 for couples.

Still others, namely Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have objected to bringing the thresholds down that low.

"To say to a worker in Vermont or California or any place else, that if you're making, you know, $52,000 a year, you are too rich to get this help, the full benefit, I think that that's absurd," Sanders recently said.

This week, the House Ways and Means Committee released its draft legislation, which included a phase-out rate of $50 for every $1,000 above the full-payment thresholds. While that rate is similar to previous checks, experts say the proposal will help limit how much higher earners, such as those with multiple children, receive, if anything.

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Now, the question is whether the proposal could be substantially changed as the House advances the measure.

Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Senate staff member, said he does not expect there will be a markup in the Senate Finance Committee.

Further, because lawmakers are looking to move the package forward through budget reconciliation, there are only so many changes that can be made.

"The process is very limited in how you can amend a reconciliation bill," Hoagland said.

Any amendments have to be germane, or relevant, and not extraneous, he said. The definition of what would qualify as a germane amendment in the Senate is very restrictive.

"You can change a number," Hoagland said. "You can strike something.

"But it's very limited," he added. "You can't add new language."

If instead the Senate Finance Committee marks up the bill, then the proposal would go through a more normal legislative process. More changes could come as a result, including tighter rules for who qualifies for the payments.

"But the current train is moving very fast, and it's going to be hard to change what comes out of the House," Hoagland said.

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