The stimulus checks were meant to get average Americans through the lockdown, but those $1,200 payouts were small change compared with the billions in tax breaks the CARES Act handed out to the country’s wealthiest.
Do you want to see how legislation that was supposed to be a bailout for our economy ended up committing almost as much taxpayer money to help a relative handful of the non-needy as it spent to help tens of millions of people in need? Then let’s step back and revisit parts of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and look at some of the numbers involved.
The best-known feature of the CARES Act, as it’s known, is the cash grant of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child for households whose income was less than $99,000 for single taxpayers and $198,000 for couples. These grants are nontaxable, which makes them even more valuable. Some 159 million stimulus payments have gone out, according to the IRS.
The income limits suggested that the plan benefits the people most in need, those most likely to spend their stimulus payments and thus help the economy. The rhetoric conveyed the same: “The CARES Act Provides Assistance to Workers And Their Families” is how the Treasury’s website puts it. There were no grants to more-fortunate people, who for the most part aren’t in financial distress and are less likely than the less-fortunate to spend any money that Uncle Sam sent them.
But when I began looking at details of the legislation, I realized that several of its provisions quietly provided benefits that were worth much more than $1,200 to some upper-middle-class people who didn’t qualify for stimulus payments. Some other provisions provided vastly bigger benefits to the rich, to corporations and to a relative handful of ultra-rich folks.
So let me show you five provisions of the legislation that benefited the upper middle class (including yours truly); the families of Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; high-income people who make large charitable donations; and Boeing and other corporations that are showing losses; as well as indirectly benefited people who have substantial investments in U.S. stocks.
These five provisions that help the well-heeled will cost the Treasury — which is to say, U.S. taxpayers — an estimated $257.95 billion for the 2020 calendar year. That’s nearly as much as the estimated $292.37 billion price tag for the stimulus grants to regular folks. The numbers are from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper of the financial impact that legislation has on the Treasury. (I used those figures to calculate the spending for the 2020 calendar year rather than for 10 federal fiscal years because I’m interested in today’s impact, not the projected long-term impact.)
I’m writing this now, more than two months after the CARES Act took effect, as a cautionary tale. That’s because with massive unemployment upon us and the fall elections drawing near, there’s a temptation for Congress and Trump to produce legislation that will help needy people a bit but help the non-needy a lot more by doing things like reducing capital gains taxes.
Now, let me take you through the provisions, only one of which — the break for the Trumps, the Kushners and their ilk — has attracted meaningful public attention.