Entrepreneur John Delaney, the former Maryland Congressman who ran for president in 2020, has proposed giving Americans a $1,500 stimulus check in exchange for getting a coronavirus vaccine. Delaney shared his idea with CNBC on Thursday, just as a new coronavirus relief package finally gained bipartisan support in Congress. One issue with the new proposal though is that it does not include any direct payment to Americans, instead of focusing on extending federal unemployment benefits and producing more aid to small businesses.
"The faster we get 75 percent of this country vaccinated, the faster we end COVID and the sooner everything returns to normal," Delaney told CNBC Thursday. The Maryland Democrat said there needs to be an "incentive for people to really accelerate" their thinking about getting vaccinated. Americans would not be forced to participate in the program, but Delaney said it would benefit everyone. "You’re going to benefit anyhow because we’ll get the country to herd immunity faster, which benefits you," he said. "So I think everyone wins."
The plan would involve Americans getting a number when they are vaccinated. After entering that number and their Social Security Number, they can receive the check. Delaney noted that other governments have similar programs, like Mexico, where parents are paid to get their children immunized. He also pointed out that the U.S. already has measures to encourage people to get their children immunized, like requiring them to get vaccinated before attending school.
This idea is not cheap. It would cost about $380 billion to send Americans $1,500 checks. The stimulus payments included in the CARES Act cost a combined $270 billion. Democrats are now supporting a $908 billion package that does not include any stimulus checks, and it has received some Republican support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed stimulus packages that cost about $500 billion. So, it seems unlikely adding $380 billion to either plan would get bipartisan support.
Delaney shook off that concern though, arguing that a stimulus check program tied to vaccination would be worth the cost. "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," he told CNBC. “So if you can only spend $400 billion, this is what you should spend it on.”
There are no plans in Washington like Delaney's, but he told CNBC some of his former progressive and moderate colleagues have asked him about it. Meanwhile, experts seemed skeptical about the idea. Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said it could be a logistics nightmare, as the Treasury Department would have to come up with ways to verify that everyone vaccinated also qualified for a payment. Younger people might also have to wait a longer time to see a payment if older people get vaccinated first, as the CDC has advised.