CORONAVIRUS

Stimulus check second round: what plans are in the pipeline?

A total of 152 million Americans have received their stimulus checks during the past six weeks. The White House and Congress are discussing a second round of payments.

Stimulus check second round: what plans are in the pipeline?

The IRS have paid out $257.9 billion in direct payments during the past six weeks to over 152 million Americans in non-taxable stimulus checks to help individuals cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the initial Emergency Relief program is over, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been pushing for another $1 trillion to cover shortfalls in the budget across states.

Stimulus check: has second payment been approved yet?

Second stimulus check will be debated this week

What is yet to be decided is whether there will be a second round of stimulus checks. At present there is nothing signed into law to send out a second stimulus check, but there has been a groundswell of opinion across the country that the first check may not be sufficient and those fears have only been underscored by the rise in unemployment with now over 36 million out of work.

A further $484 billion coronavirus relief bill was signed into law on Thursday 30 April but this was aimed at small businesses and did not contain any provision for a second stimulus check for individuals.

However, a survey by MONEY/Morning Consult showed that 60 percent of Americans say the first stimulus check was not enough to get them through the Covid-19 crisis.

Dems still keen on more stimulus checks

Democrats remain convinced that further checks are necessary, with the party getting behind a plan to give many Americans monthly $2,000 stimulus checks during the pandemic. This position builds on the proposed Emergency Money for the People Act, introduced by Rep. Tim Ryan and Rep. Ro Khanna with a further 17 Democrat sponsors aimed to give Americans 16 and older a $2,000 stimulus check each month for the next six months.

During a call with Democrats a fortnight ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) backed the plan for monthly checks, though it's yet to be seen if it will make it into the CARES 2 deal House Democrats plan to release soon.

The original $2.2 trillion CARES Act provided for the initial $1,200 stimulus check with the average payment ending up at $1,809.

Republicans on the whole however, remain unconvinced by the idea of further stimulus checks. Senator John Kennedy (R-La) said "Well, people in hell want ice water too" when asked about the plans, while Steve Scalise reportedly called any strategy for monthly payments a “radical socialist” idea.

SMART Act and HEROES Act

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the focus should be on reopening the economy, not another round of checks. That could happen if approval is given to the State Municipal Assistance for Response and Transition (SMART) Act which promises to provide $500 billion in funding for every state. "The real stimulus that’s going to change the trajectory that we're on is going to be the economy, not government checks,” Graham said. “So I doubt there will be another payment.”

Some Republicans have hinted that they would back a second of payments although in general, the mood is one of caution. 

On 15 May, the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion HEROES Act with a 208-199 vote. Part of that bill includes a new round of stimulus payments carried through until March 2021 - on top of the benefits they have already received from the CARES Act. Nevertheless, Republicans have voiced opposition to it and it is very unlikely to get through the Senate in its current format, without modifications.

If the HEROES Act is passed by the Senate, individuals would once again be eligible for checks of up to $1,200 per person ($2,400 for married couples filing taxes jointly) - and dependents would be eligible for the same amount, $1,200 per dependent, not $500 which many received in the first round of payments. Each household would only be able to receive payments for a maximum of three dependents.

The HEROES Act also includes 'Hazard pay' for essential, frontline workers.

The overall situation is that Democrats are wanting to spend big - with funding for housing, internet access, food aid, Medicaid, mortgage relief, etc. while their counterparts want to watch how the current stimulus packages play out before spending more. Dems are keen to put money in the hands of individuals, with Republicans preferring businesses to receive any cash going around.

White House still considering second stimulus checks

President Donald Trump is clearly still open to the idea of further stimulus checks, saying back on 7 April in a press conference that it was “absolutely under serious consideration," comments he has never walked back.

Trump said at the start of the month that he was considering funding for a further stimulus package, but that he wanted to “take a little bit of a pause” before passing it. He had been pushing for a payroll tax cut in order to encourage people back to work, although this didn't get the full support from his Republican colleagues.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hasset has sent mixed messages, telling reporters at the end of last month that officials were looking at the need for further stimulus checks, before saying that another round of coronavirus relief legislation might not be necessary, arguing that “because there's been good news really, that the opening up is starting to happen faster than we expected” then there is a chance no further relief, including a second stimulus check would be needed.

Second stimulus check: what happens now?

The HEROES Act has been through the House but in order for it to become a reality, it now must be passed by the Senate, who will start discussing it after the Memorial Day weekend, in the final week of May or the first week of June. Senators are expected to put relief funding legislation on hold until mid-June, and possibly passing a modified bill before the 4 July holiday.

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