Stimulus checks: Could you get $1,200, $600 or nothing?


Lawmakers are running out of time to pass another coronavirus relief package before Congress adjourns for the holidays. A major point of contention: whether the U.S. will offer Americans another stimulus check, the direct cash payments that helped millions of households weather the economic crunch caused by pandemic.

A bipartisan $908 billion proposal would leave out stimulus payments, focusing instead on providing jobless workers with an additional $300 in weekly unemployment aid. On December 8, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also proposed a $916 billion package that would provide stimulus checks worth $600 per person, although it would cut back on unemployment aid, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Treasury Department spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, some senators, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are insisting that any new relief bill include another round of checks worth $1,200 for low- and middle-income Americans — the same amount offered under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act this spring.

“If Congress can afford to give giant subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and a $1 trillion tax break to the top 1%, then we can afford $1200 direct payments to every working class adult in America,” Sanders wrote on Twitter on December 8.

The politically fraught debate over additional stimulus funding is leaving millions of households in the dark about what aid, if any, they might receive over the next few weeks. For many people, the financial picture is dimming as winter approaches and coronavirus cases reach new daily highs.

At the end of November, more consumers said they were feeling a financial impact from the COVID-19 crisis, reaching almost 6 in 10 people and representing the second consecutive monthly increase of hardship, according to a new survey from TransUnion. Job growth around the U.S. also slowed sharply in November, raising concerns the economic recovery is losing steam.

Some consumers, meanwhile, say they need far more than another one-time payment of $1,200 to help them survive until the coronavirus vaccine is widely available next year.

“As we near the end of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. And so do the economic consequences,” wrote Denver, Colorado, restaurant owner Stephanie Bonin in a petition calling for Congress to provide people with $2,000 a month, which has received nearly 2 million signatures. “My small business is suffering and my family is afraid – and I know I’m not alone.”

Good news, bad news

The Treasury Department’s stimulus plan, which is backed by the White House, offers both good and bad news for cash-strapped Americans, according to Height Securities analyst Hunter Hammond. On the one hand, it suggests the Trump administration is willing to discuss a larger stimulus package, but it also muddies the waters for earlier negotiations on the bipartisan $908 billion plan. It also heightens “the push for direct payments,” Hammond wrote in a research note.

“We expect all sides will continue to negotiate and make offers, but investors should not expect a final deal (if one is reached) until the end of the week,” he added.

Lawmakers are likely to agree on funding for supplemental unemployment aid, which will expire on December 26 for some 12 million jobless workers, Hammond said.

In the meantime, Congress remains deadlocked over the inclusion of provisions on state and local funding, sought by Democrats, and COVID-19 liability protections Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has prioritized. Mnuchin said his offer includes funding for state and local governments as well as the liability shield, which would shield businesses, schools and other organizations from lawsuits charging them with failing to protect people from the virus.

But Mnuchin’s offer would also cut unemployment aid from the $180 billion proposed by the bipartisan bill to $40 billion, according to a joint statement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Cutting jobless aid “is unacceptable,” they said on December 8.

In the meantime, millions of U.S. families are struggling to pay their bills and layoffs remain historically high. Among consumers who have been affected by the pandemic, about 8 in 10 are concerned about their ability to pay their bills – with half saying they’re worried about affording their rent or mortgage, according to TransUnion.

“Nearly two in five impacted consumers say they really need a future stimulus check and don’t know how they will get by without,” the credit reporting agency found.

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