An ethics watchdog group is concerned the Biden administration continues to notify recipients of new federal financial benefits with personalized letters bearing President Joe Biden’s signature.
The practice appears to have been inherited from Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, whom critics say put his name on coronavirus aid checks as taxpayer-funded political tools heading into the 2020 general election.
“While Trump exacerbated the issue with his insistence that checks bear his signature, potentially delaying them going out with a scheme to get around the law, the trend of presidents sending self-serving signed letters at taxpayer expense is concerning no matter who is president,” Jenna Grande, press secretary for the center-left watchdog group Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Washington Examiner. “If Biden wants to improve the ethics of the presidency, he should end this tactic.”
CREW President Noah Bookbinder previously criticized the Trump administration’s signed letters and said in a statement he “[hopes] that President Biden will not learn the wrong lessons from his predecessor and continue this kind of tactic.”
The Biden administration has sent out letters signed by the president on two specific occurrences to date, with the most recent coming in late June. Those letters informed families with children aged 17 and younger that they would begin receiving expanded, fully refundable child tax credits beginning in July. The CTC expansion was included in the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” Biden’s signature coronavirus stimulus package, and bumped up CTC reimbursement from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under the age of 6 to $2,000 to $3,000 for children ages 6-16. It also made children aged 17 eligible for the $3,000 yearly reimbursement.
The White House included both an English and Spanish version of the letter in each envelope, which were addressed to “My fellow American/Mi compatriots” and bore Biden’s signature at the end.
“On March 11, 2021, I signed into law the American Rescue Plan — a comprehensive strategy that is helping the nation put an end to the public health and economic challenges of the pandemic,” the letters open. “Today I am writing to tell you about another important economic benefit of the American Rescue Plan: an expanded child tax credit that will provide needed tax relief to almost all working families with children in our nation.”
“And there is more,” the letter continues. “While usually tax relief is not available until you file your taxes the next year — we are paying half of your expected child tax credit in advance, so you can receive it this year. Starting in July, you will get up to $250 a month for every child between 6 and 17 years old and up to $300 for every child under 6 years old.”
The letter then reminded recipients that when Biden was inaugurated, he “promised the American people that help was on the way. This child tax payment is one more way the American Rescue Plan makes good on that promise.”
“Our economy is on the mend and I believe brighter days are ahead,” Biden wrote in closing. “I truly believe there is nothing we can’t do as a nation, as long as we do it together.”
The first round of letters, sent to qualifying taxpayers in April and featuring a similar tone and format to the round sent in June, commemorated the third round of direct coronavirus stimulus checks also included in the “American Rescue Plan.”
“A key part of the American Rescue Plan is direct payments of $1,400 per person for most American households,” Biden wrote in that letter. “This fulfills a promise I made to you, and will help get Americans through the crisis.”
The White House told the Washington Examiner that the administration is sending these letters as a means of helping taxpayers prepare their returns.
“The purpose of the EIP letters is for record keeping and for filing individual tax returns. As for the CTC letters, this tax credit is calculated for each family by the number of children they have, and the letters help families understand how much tax relief to expect each month so they can plan their household budgets,” a White House official said in a statement. “While President Biden’s name is not on the memo line of the checks themselves, these letters follow the precedent set by the prior administration.”
“We are doing everything in our power to expedite the payments and not delay them, which is why the president’s name will not appear on the memo line of this round of stimulus checks,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained when asked during a March press briefing about the decision to keep Biden’s names off the checks.
“This is not about him,” she added. “This is about the American people getting relief.”
The administration did hold a public ceremony in July touting the first round of expanded CTC disbursements as a “day the American family got stronger.”
“I think this will be one of the things the vice president and I will be most proud of when our terms are up,” Biden stated at the time. “It’s a reflection of our belief that the people of this country who need a tax cut aren’t the folks at the top. They’ve got plenty of tax cuts. They’re doing just fine. It’s the people in the middle. The folks struggling or just looking for a little bit, as my dad would say, a little bit of breathing room.”
The White House has also repeatedly called on Congress to include a long-term extension of the expanded CTC in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation infrastructure proposal.