CORONAVIRUS

Second stimulus check: what plans are under discussion? Dates, amount, eligibility...

Some 160 million Americans have received their coronavirus stimulus checks over the past six weeks. The White House and Congress are discussing a second round of payments.

Second stimulus check: what plans are under discussion? Dates, amount, eligibility...

The IRS, implementing the CARES Act has now made some 160 million direct payments in the form of non-taxable stimulus checks (these may come in the form of a direct deposit, a paper check or a prepaid debit card) to help individuals cope with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the initial Emergency Relief program coming to an end, the Democrats have been pushing hard for another round of stimulus checks. Their current proposal is the HEROES Act, which they have passed through the House of Representatives, where they have a majority.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party's bill offers $3 trillion in coronavirus relief funding to the entire US economy, including a second round of stimulus checks, that, although broadly similar to the first round, would reach more individuals and have some more generous provisions, particularly regarding dependent children.

Second stimulus check still up in the air

Will there actually be a second round of stimulus checks? It's the $1,200 question, as it were. At present the only concrete proposal is the Dem's HEROES Act, but Republicans, who dominate the Senate, have made it clear that it's too generous for them to get behind.

That means there is as yet nothing signed into law to send out a second stimulus check, but it is notable that popular opinion right across the country appears to be swinging behind the idea that the first check may not have been sufficient, even despite May's better than expected jobs numbers. 

In addition to the CARES Act 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.

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

SMART Act and HEROES Act

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has 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 the $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 already received under 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 May 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.

The latest sign that the White House is keen to do something has come from US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin,who said at the end of last week: "I think we're going to seriously look at whether we want to do more direct money to stimulate the economy... I definitely think we are going to need another bipartisan legislation to put more money into the economy."

Second stimulus check: what happens now?

The reality is that, while the HEROES Act has been through the House, in its present form it is all but impossible for it to get through the Senate. 

Right now, the Senate have made it clear that they do not consider further coronavirus relief to be a priority and GOP Senate leaders have said there is no time to discuss the matter in June, meaning conversations will likely start in earnest after the 4 July recess.

As Mnuchin has said, to get any measure through Congress will require a bipartisan approach, so expect to see each side, plus the White House, begin to set out their stall for what they want from another aid package, but with the reality being that the final maneuvering will take place in the second half of July.

Key to all this will be President Donald Trump. His ratings have fallen in the face of what many voters see has been poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic and some of the actions taken in the wake of killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Trump is all too aware of the impact a direct payment can have on a voter's feelings and if he considers a second round of stimulus checks would be helpful to his chances of re-election in November, it is certain he will push his Republican colleagues hard to get what he wants.