Evangelical Christians and small-government activists, among the fiercest critics of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress, are finding solace in $1,400 stimulus checks that some are sharing with churches and political causes.
In a January Bible study livestream, Virginia pastor E.W. Jackson said a pair of Georgians headed for the U.S. Senate were “demoniacally possessed” and their fellow Democrats were “cursing” the country by supporting abortion access and gay rights. Newly minted senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were key to Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which passed the evenly divided Senate with no Republican support.
But as the stimulus checks they enabled arrive, Jackson said his followers should have no qualms about accepting the Democrats’ largess — and passing 10% to his ministry, the 100-member Called Church of Chesapeake.
“They tithe the income they have coming in. That includes the stimulus,” said Jackson, 69, the founder of a conservative political-action committee and an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate and Virginia lieutenant governor. “Whenever God gives us increase, whatever the source might be, we give some to God to acknowledge that it comes from him.”
Not much objection to the checks has circulated among members of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, according to pastor Robert Jeffress, who has called the Democratic Party “godless,” and in January told Fox Corp. television host Lou Dobbs that the Biden administration was pushing “a hard-left agenda down the throats of Americans.”
“If someone feels guilty, give it to a homeless site, food bank, church,” said Jeffress, 65, a member of then-President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. “Remember, this money isn’t coming out of Joe Biden’s wallet or a Democratic checking account.”
The Biden administration is racing to spend the latest round of pandemic relief, part of more than $5 trillion authorized over the past year. At the same time, the federal debt in 2021 will exceed the U.S. gross domestic product for the first time since the end of World War II, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Fitch Ratings, in a March 9 report, found that the 2021 stimulus “will deliver a strong economic boost” but will drive up deficits and debt. “Consequently, the prospect of debt stabilization is further away” than when the company assigned a negative outlook to its U.S. sovereign AAA rating in July 2020, Fitch wrote.
The Trump and Biden administrations bungled the stimulus, argued Joe Bishop-Henchman, national chairman of the Libertarian Party, which espouses minimal government and considers the debt among the most serious threats to U.S. security and stability.
“With all the disruption from the virus, incompetent government response and shutdowns, relief was absolutely needed,” Bishop-Henchman, who also is a vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, wrote in an email. “However, what Congress passed was poorly targeted and leaves an enormous debt burden for the next generation.”
Some Libertarian Party members say they will nevertheless spend their $1,400 checks, which total $400 billion. They are going to individuals with less than $75,000 in adjusted gross income.
“I have accepted and used the stimulus checks sent to me, as I consider them to be a return of some of the tax money I’ve had to pay to the federal government,” Diona Kozma, a real-estate agent who is vice chairwoman of the Broward County, Florida, Libertarian Party, wrote in an email.
Steven Nekhaila, chairman of the Florida Libertarian Party, said the state committee last year contacted members about donating the Trump stimulus to their cause.
“We did send the email asking folks, ‘Hey, look, what better way to fight government spending and over-reach,” Nekhaila said. “We did get some nice response. We’ll probably be doing it again.”
Francis Wendt, a 39-year-old sales manager and national Libertarian committeeman from Montana, said he was furloughed for about three months during the pandemic. He will put the cash toward child expenses.
“The baseline Libertarian message is family and livelihood before politics, always,” Wendt said. “I do need to provide for my family.”
The checks have some support even from Rep.Thomas Massie, the Kentucky Republican who demanded that lawmakers return to Washington a year ago, risking virus exposure, to consider the initial $2.2 trillion pandemic-relief bill. Massie voted against the largest U.S. stimulus, which sent $1,200 checks to taxpayers.
“I had two people send me political donations in the exact dollar amount of the check because I was the only person they saw opposing it,” Massie, 50, said. Though he wants smaller government and less spending — he introduced a bill in February to abolish the U.S Department of Education — he said anyone who wants to spend the Biden check should buy “something durable.”
“If you have land, that’s a hedge against inflation — it’s a little more tangible than Bitcoin,” Massie said in an interview. “Some people have been buying firearms.”
Biden’s American Rescue Plan — which included higher unemployment payments, an expanded child-care credit, rental assistance and food aid — had support from 68% of Americans, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Jan. 28-Feb. 1.
Even more, almost 8 in 10 favored stimulus checks of $1,400, with 90% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans supporting them, the survey of 1,075 adults found.
Among 94 million Americans who answered a U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey this month, 4.2 million reported giving at least some stimulus money to charity or relatives. More than 55 million reported spending it on food, followed by utilities, household supplies and paying down debt.
The checks are causing mixed feelings in Alaska, whose residents tend to criticize government intervention even as their state budget relies heavily on federal aid.
“The stimulus money is just free money — they’re just printing it — and that’s what’s so wrong with it,” said Craig Campbell, a Republican former lieutenant governor. Still, he added: “I’m not going to second-guess anybody’s choice to accept or not accept the money.”
Suzanne Downing, who runs Must Read Alaska, a conservative website, said she generally supports the checks, but some were wasteful.
“I don’t know how you can really justify giving $1,400 to a government worker who has never missed a day of work due to COVID,” Downing said. “This isn’t free money. It’s money we’re stealing from our grandkids.