During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the more notable, and broadly popular, congressional measures to offer relief to Americans and stimulate to the economy has been via direct payments to millions of households. Now congressional Democrats are forging ahead on passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which means many of Americans could receive a third $1,400 stimulus check in a matter of weeks. Here are the latest updates on who is getting a third stimulus check and when they may arrive.
Why Is There Already a Third Stimulus Package?
Despite nearly constant discussion of “stimulus checks” throughout the pandemic, Congress and the Trump administration only agreed on two. The first, offering $1,200 checks to adults, with an additional $500 for children, was enacted in March of 2020 via the CARES Act. The second check provided $600 for adults and another $600 for children, and was authorized by the omnibus appropriations and stimulus bill enacted at the end of December.
There are two reasons we are already talking about another package of stimulus legislation, and another round of stimulus checks, so soon. Nearly all Democrats and even some Republicans thought the December legislation was inadequate in size and scope (there was not, for example, any aid to state and local governments, a major Democratic priority). Meanwhile, the pandemic’s winter surge reached frightening new levels, vaccine distribution needs a major boost, and the economy as reflected in the December and January jobs reports is looking anemic.
Joe Biden has made it clear since before the election that he would favor a new and expanded stimulus package upon taking office. And that has particular significance in terms of direct stimulus payments. There was significant bipartisan support for making that second check $2,000 instead of $600. So the new Biden administration will try to “plus up” the second check to that level with a third $1,400 check.
What’s in the Biden American Rescue Plan?
As his first and top priority, Biden is offering a new stimulus package he’s calling the American Rescue Plan. Its centerpiece is the aforementioned third stimulus check. The $1,400-per-person payments would be made to adults, children, and for the first time, adult dependents. So, as Intelligencer’s Eric Levitz explains, “a single mother who cares for a child and a disabled sibling would receive a $4,200 check.”
The eligibility standards, however, have spurred a serious debate, with Republicans and some moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin complaining that distributing the new check amounts by the old CARES Act formula will wind up benefitting families that are not in need and will not spend the money in a way that will benefit the economy, and Biden signaling he might accept adjustments. The problem may have been solved in the House Ways and Means Committee, where legislation authorizing a new $1,400 check kept the old eligibility formula for the full check ($75,000 for individuals, $150,000 for couples) but accelerated the income phase-out so that families earning upwards of $300,000 would no longer qualify for assistance.
The overall $1.9 trillion proposal has many other elements as well, including $400 in federal supplemental unemployment insurance through September; a $15 minimum wage; $350 billion in aid to state and local governments; $170 billion for schools and universities; $25 billion in rental assistance (along with an extension of the 2020 eviction moratorium until September) and $5 billion for those threatened with homelessness; big increases in the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit; paid leave for 109 million Americans; $40 billion for child care; $50 billion for COVID-19 testing; and $20 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Who Supports Biden’s Plan and the Checks It Contains?
Nearly all congressional Democrats are expected to support Biden’s plan, or most of it, including the third checks, which simply raise the direct assistance to levels most Democrats supported all along. Republicans are another matter. Many conservatives, particularly in the Senate, only grudgingly supported the second package, and succeeded in holding down its price tag. The aid to state and local governments in the Biden plan is a particularly bright-red flag for a lot of Republicans. Some of the provisions will be denounced as extraneous to COVID-19 relief or stimulus, especially perennial progressive proposals like a minimum-wage increase and expanded federal involvement in child care.
While some bipartisan negotiations are undoubtedly going on behind closed doors, the Biden administration and congressional Democrats have decided to pursue a stimulus bill through the budget reconciliation process that can sidestep a Senate filibuster and thus produce results without Republican votes, at the price of sacrificing some provisions (possibly including a minimum wage increase) that do not qualify as budget-germane.
When Can We Expect Action on the Third Checks?
Both House and Senate have passed budget resolutions on party-line votes, authorizing the reconciliation bill that would be the vehicle for the third checks and the overall stimulus package. House committees that have jurisdiction over various parts of the package are now reporting individual legislative items to the Budget Committee, which will assemble the final bill for a floor vote on the week of February 22. As noted above, the Ways and Means Committee has already approved a second check of $1,400 for adults and children, with an adjusted phase-out. Once the House has finished and (as is expected) passes the reconciliation bill on a party-line vote, the Senate will go through a similar process. Since Democrats have no margin for error in the 50-50 Senate, all eyes will be on moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin to determine what he will accept. The House Ways & Means adjustment of the eligibility phase-out for the third check was designed to satisfy Manchin, and so far, it appears to have succeeded.
The goal Democrats have set for getting a reconciliation bill on Joe Biden’s desk is March 14, when the extended unemployment insurance benefits in the last stimulus bill expire.