Stimulus Check

Can a fourth stimulus check payment happen before December 2021?

The House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better bill on Friday, one measure missing, another round of direct payments. Could it still happen?

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Can a fourth stimulus check payment happen before December 2021?
JIM WATSON AFP

After the sending of the third stimulus check, personal income rose to $24.1 billion in March 2021. Since then the figure has trended downward, and in September hit $20.4 billion. One of the main factors driving the decrease was the ending of federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs which dropped from an average of two percent of personal income from April to August to 0.5% in September.

As unemployment benefits ended more than eight million workers in the United States quit their jobs, providing new evidence that the benefits were not keeping people from reentering the workforce. Still, nearly 30 percent of American adults still had trouble paying usual household expenses as of early October as the harm to the economy and livelihoods from the covid-19 pandemic continues.

With prices up across the economy and the holiday season approaching, many are hoping Congress will pass another round of direct payments in December. However, it seems unlikely. A fourth stimulus check was not included in the Build Back Better Act or reconciliation bill which was approved by the House of Representatives on Friday 19 November. While a stimulus check was not included, the bill, if approved by the Senate would extend the current structure of the child tax credit another year, providing some relief to families.

Child tax credit background and extension

Changes to the value and distribution of the child tax credit were made under the American Rescue Plan. These alterations increased eligibility to twenty-four million children and in July the Internatl Revanue Service began distributing monthly payments. For each child under six families receive $300 and for those between six and seventeen, a $250 payment is made. The last payment in 2021 will be made on 15 December, and the remaining value of the credit -- half -- will be paid when families file their taxes in the spring.

Studies of the initial payments, which began in July have reduced hardship for families with children, lifting 3 million children out of poverty. The much-lauded 40 percent reduction in child poverty by 2025 will not be met, as that would only be if it was extended for the full five years, but this was reduced. Researchers with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have also found that "the vast majority of parents with low incomes are spending their Child Tax Credit payments on basic needs such as food, housing, utility bills, and education, which can help give their children a stronger start in life."

Build Back Better extension

Although the extension, included in the Build Back Better Act, is only for one year, and not until 2025 as the White House had called for, the change making the tax provision fully refundable would become permanent. This will be a boost for low-income families who previously couldn’t begin to claim the credit unless they had earned income over $2,500 prior to the changes made under the American Rescue Plan. Even then, parents would only gradually receive more of the credit as their income increased until they could claim the full credit.

By making permanent the fully-refundable aspect of the Child Tax Credit, even if another extension can’t be pushed through next year, all taxpayers with eligible children will be able to claim $2,000 until 2025 when the credit will drop to $1,000 per child under 17.