Millions of Americans are still hoping for a second round of stimulus checks to help them cope with the financial fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government is preparing to distribute vaccinations to the American public in order to put an end to the public health crisis.
Now, one proposal aims to help both efforts by giving people $1,500 stimulus checks in exchange for getting immunized.
The idea comes from entrepreneur John Delaney, a former Democratic congressman for Maryland who also ran for president in 2020.
“The faster we get 75 percent of this country vaccinated, the faster we end Covid and the sooner everything returns to normal,” Delaney said in an interview with CNBC.com.
Admittedly, the plan could face some hurdles.
Congress has worked for months to come to an agreement on the next coronavirus stimulus package. Republicans and Democrats are still at odds, even as 12 million people could lose unemployment benefits in a few weeks if nothing is done. More stimulus checks, once an area of bipartisan agreement, now seem to be off the table.
At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control met this week to decide who should be first in line to get vaccinated. Once the vaccines are approved, they will roll out to Americans free of charge. But some individuals may be afraid to take the newly developed treatments. One Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans said they would get a Covid-19 vaccine.
How Delaney’s plan would work
Public polling has found that whether or not to take the vaccine has become a political issue, which is discouraging, Delaney said.
“We have to create, in my judgment, an incentive for people to really accelerate their thinking about taking the vaccine,” Delaney said.
To be sure, those who are not comfortable receiving the vaccine would not be forced to do so.
“If you’re still afraid of the vaccine and don’t want to take it, that’s your right,” Delaney said. “You won’t participate in this program.
“But guess what?” he added. “You’re going to benefit anyhow, because we’ll get the country to herd immunity faster, which benefits you. So I think everyone wins.”
To execute the plan, the government could create a system where people would receive a number once they were vaccinated. Once they enter that along with their Social Security number, they would receive a check.
In the U.S., we already have measures to encourage people to get vaccines, such as requiring them in order for children to attend school.
“It’s not like we don’t pull levers to get people vaccinated,” Delaney said. “We do that now.”
Some other countries already reimburse people for vaccine compliance, Delaney noted. In Mexico, the government pays people to get their children immunized. In India, one program provides food and household goods once kids are vaccinated.
What it would cost
Sending Americans $1,500 in exchange for vaccinations would cost $380 billion, which Delaney admits is a lot of money.
In comparison, the first stimulus checks sent by the government this year so far total more than $270 billion.
The fact that Congress has so far neglected to approve second stimulus checks is “tragic,” Delaney said, and should have been given to Americans anyway.
The cost of the next stimulus package is a source of contention between the political parties on Capitol Hill. Democrats are currently advocating for $900 billion as a starting point, while Republican leadership has said it wants something around $500 billion.
Adding this new $380 billion might seem too expensive, as lawmakers try to squeeze in ample funding for unemployed workers, small businesses, state and local governments, schools and health-care organizations.
However, tying stimulus checks to vaccinations would actually be the most effective strategy to stop the virus, and thus curtail the need for other forms of aid, Delaney said.
“The faster we get 75% of this country vaccinated, the faster we end Covid and the sooner everything returns to normal, which means we don’t need any more programs,” Delaney said.
“So if you can only spend $400 billion, this is what you should spend it on.”
The stimulus checks do not necessarily have to be $1,500, Delaney said. Other proposals have called for payments ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000.
Currently, there are no formal proposals on Capitol Hill to tie stimulus check eligibility to Covid-19 vaccinations. Delaney said he has fielded inquiries about the proposal from former colleagues on the progressive and moderate sides.
Why some experts have questions
Some experts are skeptical that such a plan could work.
“It’s an interesting idea,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Senate staffer. “It’s a nudge factor.
“But that shouldn’t be an issue then that decides on a stimulus check, if we’re going to have stimulus checks out there,” Hoagland said.
In some ways, creating the incentive to get vaccinated makes sense, said Howard Gleckman, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
But such an initiative could create unintended delays in delivering the money.
Now that the CDC has said older people should get vaccinated first, that would also make that population first in line for receiving stimulus checks. Younger people, consequently, could potentially face a six-month wait, Gleckman said.
“In some ways, it’s the reverse order for when you want to deliver stimulus checks for people,” Gleckman said.
More time would also have to be added on in general for the Treasury Department to verify that people have had their vaccines and cross reference that with other requirements they must meet in order to get stimulus checks.
“It’s always nice to be able to kill two birds with one stone, but in this case I think the two birds are flying off in different directions,” Gleckman said. “It’s going to be really hard to make it work.”