stimulus checks

Will We Get a Third Round of COVID-19 Stimulus Checks?

Checks could roll out quickly or after a significant delay caused by Republican opposition. Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

One of the more notable and broadly popular congressional pandemic relief measures has been direct payments to millions of households. Now, Democrats in Congress are halfway through the process of passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which means many Americans (including children) 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 that 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, 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. The problem appears to 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 phaseout so that families earning upward 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; $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. The original proposal, which was almost entirely incorporated in the budget reconciliation bill passed by the House on February 27, also included a $15 minimum wage. But on February 26, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that that chamber’s special guidelines for budget reconciliation bills excluded the minimum wage provisions, which will now to proceed as separate legislation subject to a Senate filibuster.

Who Supports Biden’s Plan and the Checks It Contains?

The decision to move the Biden plan and the stimulus checks through Congress via the budget reconciliation process meant that it could remain virtually intact, but it would require nearly all Democratic votes in both chambers. (The most a group of Senate Republicans offered was a $600 billion proposal that Biden rejected as inadequate after meeting with them.) Only two Democrats voted against the House bill, and not a single Republican supported it. The exclusion of the minimum wage provisions by the Senate parliamentarian eliminated the one issue on which Senate Democrats had been publicly divided (though only two, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, objected to it). So at this point, it’s likely the reconciliation bill will be approved in that chamber on a strict 50-50 party-line vote with Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.

When Can We Expect Action on the Third Checks?

As noted above, the House cleared the stimulus package (including the third checks) on February 27. The Senate’s goal is to get a bill onto President Biden’s desk by the March 14 expiration date for the extended federal unemployment benefits made available in the last stimulus measure. The House will have to rubber-stamp the Senate version before Biden gets it. But unless progressives carry through with earlier threats to vote against the package to protest the omission of minimum wage provisions (which is very unlikely), House passage and then a presidential signature will happen quickly. As was shown by the second stimulus check process late last year, the IRS is getting much better about getting the money into the bank accounts of taxpayers, so relief should arrive soon.

Will We Get a Third Round of Stimulus Checks?