Turlock Congressman Josh Harder (D-CA) announced on Monday that he would be introducing a $500 federal gas relief check program proposal to all taxpayers later this week, coming off the heels of 4 major proposals within California for similar relief and rebate programs this month.
In an interview with Fox, Harder noted that his proposal, the “Putting Gas Money Back in Your Pocket Act” would send $500 to all taxpayers. Those filing jointly would receive $1,000, with all dependents ages 16 and above also getting $500 due to being of driving age. If passed, the checks would be sent out in a similar system to how the pandemic stimulus checks were sent out, with the first ones going out 30 days after passage. He also noted that there would be no income cap, allowing checks to go to all taxpayers regardless of wealth.
“Sky high gas prices are crushing our community, so today I’m introducing a bill to put money back where it belongs: our families’ pockets,” said Congressman Harder on Monday. “The Putting Gas Money Back in Your Pocket Act will deliver $500 gas price rebate checks to every driver in our community so families can afford to get where they need to go. Nobody should have to worry about being able to afford their commute in the morning or picking up their kids in the afternoon. There is no income cap. The goal here is to simplify the process and get this help out ASAP.”
Despite being a Democrat, Rep. Harder has come out many times in the past against high gas prices and added taxes on gas, going so far as to write an op-ed for Fox Business about it late last year. However, Harder has also been accused of trying to pass legislation more friendly to centrist and right-leaning voters in the newly redistricted 9th district. Harder’s new district, with strong GOP support where he is running for reelection this year, is the 9th is slated to be one one of the most contested Congressional districts in California this year, according to Cook Political.
“Harder does care about lower gas prices, because cynicism aside, it’s a problem that is affecting a lot of people right now and a lot of people sympathize with it. Politicians included,” said Halle Mondo, an LA-area political advertisement consultant, to the Globe on Monday. “Problem is, Harder is playing this up and getting a lot of attention for the idea of $500 checks now. So, yeah, well-meaning but there is obviously a huge benefit for him personally in the political arena on this too. Not exactly altruist, but based on his history around gas taxes and gas prices, it also isn’t a 100% vote-grab.”
4 other plans at the state level in California
Harder’s $500 rebate program, which has yet to have an assessed rough cost, came after weeks of proposals at the state level. Since late February, 4 separate proposals have been brought up, and in some cases, even voted on in Sacramento. The GOP’s $6 billion proposal, AB 1638, which would have removed the state’s 51 cent gas tax per gallon for a period of six months, was rejected in the Assembly earlier this month, and hijacked in the Assembly Transportation Committee Monday. A $9 billion Assembly Democrat plan to give $400 tax rebates to all Californian taxpayers regardless of car ownership status, is currently under discussion in Sacramento, as is a joint plan by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) worth $6.2 billion that would give $200 rebates to all Californians taxpayers except the wealthiest 10% of owners.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s $11 billion proposal would have funds go to electric vehicles and public transportation, but with the largest chunk, $9 billion, going directly to drivers. Californians with registered vehicles will receive $400 for each vehicle in the form of debit cards, with owners capped at two vehicles each. Program eligibility is based on vehicle registration and not tax records to help include those on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and those with low-incomes who own cars. While there is a cap on the number of cars, Newsom did not include an income cap, meaning that all Californians who own cars are eligible.
All four proposals rely on tapping into the projected $30 to $60 billion in projected state budget surplus funds. Many insiders note that what program is ultimately selected in California may influence what federal program, Harder’s or others, that may be proposed soon, will be selected.
“Colleagues in Washington have told me that a lot of people are watching California on this,” added Mondo. “Biggest state of course, but California is also one of the few now looking beyond just cutting the gas tax for a bit. They’re looking at checks in the mail and being added to accounts online. That’s direct cash, just like all the stimulus checks. In an election year no less. If California manages to pass it and it goes off without a hitch, a lot of people in Washington may come around and boost a similar plan, which may be Harder’s in the end.
“What we are waiting on is possible amendments, like cutting out non-car owners or restricting who gets it, as well as the projected price tag of the proposal. In this climate, the GOP would fight hard against it over several issues, as well as a lot of Democrats who don’t want wealthy people to get the checks. To put it simply, a lot of people are going to fight this, just like COVID relief.”
Harder is to formally announce his $500 program proposal Wednesday.