Nonprofit To Spend $1 Million Pushing For COVID-19 Relief Checks

WorkMoney, a nonprofit geared toward helping Americans who are struggling during the pandemic, plans to spend $1 million mobilizing grassroots pressure for a COVID-19 relief bill that includes direct cash payments.

The group, which is pushing for Congress to supplement the $600 checks it passed in December with a $1,400 payment, intends to use its funds to mobilize voters in a dozen states represented by members of Congress who would be pivotal to such a bill’s passage.

“Right now, in a crisis, I think both parties aren’t living up to what they need to be living up to,” said Carrie Joy Grimes, CEO of WorkMoney. “We can’t wait for somebody to save us. We’ve got to show up to where the decisions get made and advocate on our own behalf.”

WorkMoney plans to focus on Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin to turn up the pressure, particularly on senators, by educating voters about where lawmakers stand and empowering them to tell their stories and express their demands. The group plans to encourage its member-activists, of whom it estimates there are 1.4 million, to call lawmakers, send letters and potentially participate in virtual and in-person demonstrations.

The group’s announcement is timed to coincide with the intense negotiations between the White House and Congress over the size and scope of new economic relief legislation.

President Joe Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion relief bill that would bring the total sum of relief checks since December to $2,000 by allotting an additional $1,400 one-time payment for low- and middle-income households. 

Back in December, the Democratic-controlled House and Republican Senate passed a compromise COVID-19 relief deal that would have provided almost all Americans with $600 checks.

The following day, then-President Donald Trump objected to the bill, arguing that nothing short of $2,000 would suffice.

Trump eventually signed the bill, but not before giving Democrats, many of whom had wanted larger checks all along, a cherished political cudgel.

House Democrats responded by promptly passing a bill amending the December payments to $2,000 and daring Senate Republicans to block it. When Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declined to allow a vote on the bill in the Senate, Democrats successfully used the checks as a wedge issue in the Georgia Senate runoff races on Jan. 5. Biden himself promised that if Georgians voted out then-Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, handing Democrats control of the upper chamber, it would enable delivery of payments that add up to $2,000. 

But there are still obstacles to the passage of Biden’s $1,400 supplement in the Senate, which Democrats narrowly took over earlier this month. 

Depending on how the legislation is structured, it may face a filibuster, which would require at least 60 votes ― and the support of at least 10 Republican senators ― to overcome. Even if a simple majority is all that is required for passage, the Senate’s 50-50 split means that Biden needs the support of every Democrat. And that’s far from certain: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, has already said he would prefer to “target” the aid to people who need the relief most, even though income limits already exclude upper-middle-class and wealthy households. 

Manchin has already been the subject of critical radio ads funded by the No Excuses PAC, a progressive group founded by former aides to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

But for the time being, WorkMoney is opting for a gentler approach of educating lawmakers about their constituents’ needs and demands.

“There are places where those decision-makers are going to have outsize influence over whether somebody in the rest of the country is going to get money in their pocket,” Grimes said, referring to West Virginia and other states. “We’re going to make sure that those senators and members of Congress hear from their own constituents about what they expect.”

WorkMoney is also pushing for an extension of special pandemic unemployment insurance and continued aid to small businesses.

“Anything that we can do to lift incomes and lower prices is what we are going to be looking at for the rest of the year,” Grimes said. 

As Politico reported in October, WorkMoney has the markings of a union-backed venture. Prior to founding WorkMoney, Grimes spent years organizing workers with the Service Employees International Union, a Democratic-leaning union that represents about 2 million service- and public-sector workers. And the group has retained the New York City-based public relations firm, BerlinRosen, the vendor of choice for many unions and liberal groups.

But WorkMoney denies any connection to organized labor, and it has not received any funding directly from unions, according to Department of Labor records. 

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, WorkMoney enjoys tax-exempt status so long as it spends less than half of its funds on political activities. That legal structure also means the group is free to conceal the identities of its donors. 

In addition, by virtue of its advocacy for a robust aid package, WorkMoney is effectively advocating for congressional cooperation with Biden. The group’s only political spending to date has been in support of Biden’s election in November, and the Senate candidacies of Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock in January.

WorkMoney insists that it is nonpartisan, however, and claims that its campaign spending reflected its view of what was the most effective way to get people immediate financial relief.

“So far the writing has been on the wall about what would work to put money in people’s pockets,” Grimes said.

Since its launch in April, WorkMoney has spent millions of dollars on digital advertisements to recruit members online through pitches that usually require participants to volunteer their phone number and other personal information. Its ads on Facebook and other platforms encourage people to complete questionnaires about their experiences with economic hardship during the pandemic or sign a petition calling on Congress to “approve a bigger $2,000 stimulus now.” (The petition now has over 1 million signatures, according to WorkMoney.)

Through text messages, phone calls and interactions with people who use its popular Facebook page, WorkMoney has offered advice about eligibility for relief payments and words of support, and it has educated members about where their representatives stand on the need for immediate relief.

In the long term, WorkMoney hopes to become a permanent, nonpartisan voice for economic relief during hard times modeled on how AARP advocates for seniors, Grimes said.

“If you work hard, you should be able to care for yourself and your family and just live a decent life, a good life,” she said. “And crisis or no crisis, it’s just way too hard for people.”

Based on a survey it conducted, WorkMoney estimates that 40% of its members are Republicans, 35% are independents and 25% are Democrats.

The two WorkMoney activists whom HuffPost interviewed both said they voted for Donald Trump in November.

Lori Taylor, 55, is a former retail worker in Morgantown, West Virginia, who receives Social Security disability benefits for a chronic pain condition she acquired after a failed surgery on her neck. She and her husband, a union coal miner, have fallen behind on their mortgage and tax debts after her husband lost a week of pay. They are also struggling to help their son pay for the funeral of their daughter-in-law, who recently died of brain cancer. 

Taylor, who is a Republican but voted for Manchin, is skeptical of Manchin’s comments about targeting the relief checks more narrowly and has emailed his office to express her concerns. 

“Everyone deserves it,” Taylor said, adding that she supports relief payments of even more than $2,000. “It shouldn’t be targeted on just one particular person. He’s not going to know every single person’s struggle.”

Manchin’s future in the Senate will depend on “the way he reacts this year,” she warned. (Manchin is up for reelection in 2024.)

Helen Roberts, 60, of Anchorage, earns some money from the state from her adoption of two children. But income she would normally bring in from providing child care to other children has dried up during the pandemic.

As a result, Roberts, who still hasn’t received a $600 check, is thousands of dollars behind on her rent and on the brink of having her electricity turned off. 

Politically, Roberts identifies as an independent, but she has tried to avoid involvement in politics, finding that so much as watching the TV news gives her anxiety. She has joined WorkMoney because of her desperation for relief.

“I just can’t keep up with my bills,” she said. “We need this stimulus to help us out.”

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