“We reached out to various members of Congress that we thought would be receptive and aligned with the fact that cash relief would be the most impactful way to help the folks that they saw were struggling in their communities,” Yang said in an interview. “I see it as like the most important work I do, because I know that if you get a number of legislators on board with doing the right thing for people, then we can alleviate the suffering of tens of millions of Americans.”
Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and Republican Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia last week introduced a measure in the House stemming from Yang’s lobbying. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the No. 5 House Democrat, has signed on as a co-sponsor.
The bill would provide one-time direct payments similar to those in the previously approved CARES Act. Under Blunt Rochester and McKinley’s bill, individuals would receive $1,000 while couples would get $2,000, and each dependent would get $1,000. The cash payment would be less for individuals making at least $75,000 or for joint filers who make $150,000 or more. Twelve Democrats and 12 Republicans have joined Blunt Rochester and McKinley as co-sponsors.
“There is a sense of urgency right now,” Blunt Rochester said. “As these deadlines come to fruition, we’ve seen so many people who are at risk from eviction. We’ve seen so many of our folks on food lines, they need the help.”
McKinley said that lawmakers want to pass relief for hospitals and businesses, and he questions why there aren’t direct funds for individuals.
“This is a chance for us to do something quick. And while we debate the others and we work out all the details, let’s help those individuals get through this because they’re still struggling,” he said.
Congressional negotiators have been at an impasse for months, and the last-ditch effort to approve coronavirus relief before lawmakers leave Washington for the holidays faces uncertainty. Senate Republicans have signaled a resistance to a bipartisan group’s $908 billion proposal, and top Hill leaders have begun crafting legislative language on the less-contentious aspects of a measure, such as funding for small businesses.
Still, several lawmakers and even President Donald Trump have said they want direct payments to be included in a Covid-19 measure. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are working together on a proposal that gives $1,200 to individuals who make $75,000 a year, and a senior Humanity Forward official said the nonprofit is “working to build support amongst other senators” for the Hawley-Sanders bill.
“The pandemic’s been a heartbreaking tragedy for millions of us and it’s sped up a lot of things I was concerned about,” Yang said. “When I was running, you know, I seemed kind of futurist, but the future is now. The things that I was concerned about are here with us now.”
Through his Humanity Forward nonprofit, Yang said he has distributed almost $10 million in “economic relief” during the pandemic, including through microgrants. And his possible mayoral run is also looming large. Yang says he’s been reaching out to elected officials in New York to gauge their support and will “have a decision staked out in the next number of weeks.”
In the meantime, the pandemic continues to surge across the country, with thousands of people dying each day and the economy stalling out. With such a dire situation unfolding, Yang says he’s remaining focused on stimulus.
“We might be helping millions of Americans get help from their government, which would be a freaking accomplishment to be proud of,” he says.