Why increasing the stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 is a bad idea

As we have previously pointed out, there was a case for including modest “checks” to the hardest-hit, low-income segment of the population. In the $908 billion stimulus it did pass, however, Congress went well beyond that, providing $600 payments that will send up to $3,000 for families of five earning as much as $150,000 — and at least a few dollars to those earning up to $210,000, before phasing out entirely. The bill does this while extending unemployment benefits a mere 11 weeks. In short, the measure short-shrifted the neediest and showered billions on people who suffered little or no lasting hardship from the pandemic. This, at a time when the economy has healed significantly and coronavirus vaccinations are underway — unlike the chaotic days of April, when Congress sent checks (of only $1,200) to help people cope with economic free fall.

Yet a just-passed House bill would compound all of those errors by increasing the $600 payment to $2,000, at a total cost of $464 billion. It would phase out completely only for families of five earning above $350,000. Much of this is going to be saved, not spent, since restaurants are closed and air travel limited. The resources would be far better spent, in terms of both economic equity and economic growth, on longer extension of unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments, and vaccines.