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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders call for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, which are excluded from the COVID-19 relief bill gaining momentum in Congress

Business Insider logo Business Insider 12/4/2020 (Eliza Relman,Joseph Zeballos-Roig)
a woman holding a microphone: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Mario Tama/Getty Images © Mario Tama/Getty Images Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday doubled down on her call for another wave of $1,200 direct payments to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • "If people don't get UI assistance, and if they don't get a stimulus check, then relief isn't going to be felt in their lives, not in a substantive way," Ocasio-Cortez told NBC News.
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib and GOP Sen. Josh Hawley have also urged lawmakers to approve a second round of stimulus checks.
  • Stimulus checks like the ones distributed to millions of American taxpayers as part of the CARES Act this spring are missing from the $908 billion coronavirus relief package that's gaining traction in Congress.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont echoed his colleagues' demand by announcing that he wouldn't vote for the latest relief bill without "significant" changes, including the addition of $1,200 checks.
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive lawmakers are calling for another wave of $1,200 direct payments to be included in the $908 billion coronavirus stimulus package that's gathering steam in Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have signaled a willingness to move forward with the relief legislation despite their calls for a federal assistance package of at least $2.2 trillion.

Ocasio-Cortez told NBC News' Garrett Haake on Friday that while the framework of the new relief bill included positive measures, she was concerned that without unemployment insurance and direct payments, needy Americans wouldn't receive direct relief.

"If people don't get UI assistance, and if they don't get a stimulus check, then relief isn't going to be felt in their lives, not in a substantive way," Ocasio-Cortez said. "And so will I support resources to hospitals and schools and firefighters? Absolutely. But I am extremely concerned that it's not going to solve the immediate problems that people have."

She added that "if you're on the brink of an eviction or if you're behind on six months of bills, you need that check, you need the check, and state and local funding isn't going to help you."

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont followed up Ocasio-Cortez's demand with an announcement that he wouldn't vote for the latest relief bill unless "significant" changes were made, including the addition of $1,200 checks.

Read more: The $908 billion coronavirus stimulus deal could be the next one Congress passes: Here's what's in the relief package and what you could get

Other progressives, such as Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, have also advocated the inclusion of direct payments. Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted on Friday that it would be "immoral" to pass another relief bill without stimulus checks. And there is some GOP support for direct payments - Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley signaled that he wouldn't vote for a relief package without stimulus checks and tweeted on Friday that he would "gladly work" with Ocasio-Cortez on this effort.

The latest government rescue package was introduced on Tuesday by a bipartisan group of 16 senators. Congressional Democrats embraced the framework a day later, saying it should be the starting point in negotiations with Republicans after months of gridlock.

Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell favors a slimmer rescue plan, some GOP senators are lining up behind the compromise proposal. It still lacks legislative text, which is expected early next week.

Ocasio-Cortez has been outspoken in supporting a new round of stimulus checks, but she has said that checks alone, without funding for state and local governments, would amount to a "sugar high."

She's also been sharply critical of the GOP's push to shield businesses and schools from legal liability if their employees are infected with COVID-19 on the job. Republicans have insisted on including a so-called liability shield in any relief bill, but many Democrats view the measure as a poison pill.

If Congress fails to pass a new relief bill, nearly 12 million Americans could lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas when their pandemic-related assistance expires. Millions of Americans could be evicted from their homes when a national moratorium on evictions expires at the end of December, along with student-loan forbearance.

Pressure is mounting on Congress as COVID-19 cases spike across the country. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the pace of hiring had decreased for the fifth consecutive month in November as 10 million Americans remained unemployed.

President-elect Joe Biden has insisted that any stimulus passed before his inauguration in late January would be a "down payment" on a more comprehensive relief package he'd seek to pass early in his presidency.

"Any package passed in the lame-duck session is not enough," Biden said on Friday. "It's just the start. Congress will need to act again in January."

As part of the CARES Act in March, Congress and President Donald Trump authorized $1,200 direct payments for millions of American taxpayers earning up to $75,000 annually, plus an extra $500 per child under 17. The cash amount diminished until being phased out for those making above $99,000. Married couples earning up to $150,000 a year also qualified for the full payment.

The Treasury Department and the IRS distributed nearly 153 million stimulus payments this year, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The program cost $292 billion.

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