Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader voted against increasing the COVID-19 relief checks from $600 to $2,000 Monday, Dec. 28 — not because he didn't want people to receive additional financial aid, but rather he felt the stimulus checks did not target those in dire financial trouble.
"It's the one program that was not improved at all in the nine months since we put the first CARES package out," said Schrader, who represents the state's 5th District covering much of Clackamas County as well as Lincoln, Marion, Polk and Tillamook counties. "It is based on 2019 incomes. It has nothing to do with what's happened to poor folks in 2020."
Schrader was one of two House Democrats (the other was Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski) who voted against H.R. 9051 or the CASH Act — a follow-up to the original stimulus package passed by Congress Dec. 21. The CASH Act, which passed the House 275-134 Monday and arrived on the Senate floor Tuesday, would increase the COVID-19 relief one-time payments from $600 to $2,000 for individuals who earned $75,000 or less in 2019, and increase the $1,200 amount to $4,000 for couples who reported an adjusted gross income of $150,000 or less in 2019.
After President Donald Trump spent much of last week criticizing the $600 payments and threatening to veto the stimulus bill if the payments weren't increased to $2,000, he ultimately signed the bill Sunday, Dec. 27. But on Monday, House Democrats nonetheless pushed the CASH Act as a separate bill. Of the 275 yes votes, 44 came from Republicans.
Schrader said he was in support of the original $600 payment because it was a scaled down version of the CASH Act, which he said is "just throwing money at the wall."
Schrader said he was proud of the work the Problem Solvers Caucus — a 50-member bipartisan caucus consisting of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans — accomplished at the beginning of December.
"That was a well thought out package (that) took months to put together," said Schrader, adding that the Problem Solvers Caucus came out with rough guidelines for leadership in summer and early fall, eventually engaging senators to create a $908 billion COVID-19 relief package targeted to key areas for state and local aid. "I felt really good about that. (It was) bipartisan, bicameral, thoughtful — and the CASH Act is none of that."
Schrader said other COVID-19 relief programs have improved since the start of the pandemic, including the Payment Protection Program, which was altered to better target smaller businesses and minority-lending institutions while ensuring its flexibility and that expenses were eventually deductible. He said Oregon's Unemployment Department improved as well. The one-time stimulus check, according to Schrader, is the least effective of all the relief opportunities provided so far. He said the aid, which is "very short-term in nature," should be better targeted toward people who have suffered the impacts of Gov. Kate Brown's shutdowns — like people working in the hospitality industry.
"If you're going to spend another half trillion, we should have put that into beefing up state and local aid," said Schrader, adding that there should be more PPP benefits and an extended unemployment duration. "Thank God we have a vaccine on the horizon."
He said money would be better allocated to areas like child care, health care provider relief, transportation and broadband access, which he claims is the "lifeblood" of education in rural America.
"I think those would be areas I would make further investments in," Schrader said. "Americans are hurting and need the help in the worst way. Let's make sure the help we get them is targeted and not gratuitously done on the backs of future generations."
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