A second round of stimulus checks will soon be landing in the bank accounts of millions of Americans, thanks to the $900 billion economic relief package that Congressional leaders agreed to on December 20. But there are some significant differences this round, including the amount: $600 per person, half of the $1,200 directed toward most adults in the first round of stimulus checks.
Just days ago, it was unclear whether the stimulus package would even include another round of direct checks. But last-minute negotiations cleared the path for a second stimulus check, which consumer advocates have argued is much-needed as millions of Americans continue to struggle with lost wages and jobs amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
Even so, it's unclear whether the $600 checks will be enough to tide over families until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and can relieve the economic pressures that have dampened consumer spending and the job market in 2020.
However, one group of people will receive more money in the second round of stimulus checks than the first: dependent children, who will receive the same $600 checks as adults, up from the $500 checks that children received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (or CARES Act) in the spring.
The $900 billion package "will provide support for the economy through March," Raymond James analysts said in a December 20 research note. "The bill is expected to see passage early this week, pending any final legislative hurdles."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, described the bill as "just a first step."
"This is an emergency, we need a second bill to continue dealing with the emergency and to start stimulating our economy so we get back to where we were and that will be job number one in the new Biden administration," he said December 20.
Many questions remain about the stimulus checks, but here is what is known so far, based on a summary that was released by lawmakers and published by The Washington Post.
Single people earning up to $75,000 will receive $600, while married couples earning up to $150,000 will receive $1,200 — exactly half of the amount paid out earlier this year through the CARES Act.
It's believed that the second round of checks will have the same type of income phaseouts as in the CARES Act, with the stimulus check payments reduced for earnings above $75,000 per single person or $150,000 per married couple, although the details on the phaseouts haven't yet been released.
In the CARES Act, the $1,200 checks were phased out entirely for single people earning over $99,000 and for couples earning over $198,000.
Aside from the smaller stimulus checks for adults, the other major change is the amount provided for dependent children: $600 for each child, up from $500 in the CARES Act.
However, the summary released by lawmakers says the $600 will be directed toward each "child dependent," which suggests that adults who are nevertheless claimed as dependents — such as college students — may not qualify for the checks.
Another question is whether adult dependents, such as seniors who are claimed as dependents on their adult children's tax returns, would qualify for the checks.
A family of two parents with two child dependents could receive up to $2,400 under the provision, lawmakers said.
Couples who include an immigrant without a Green Card would also qualify for the checks, a provision that is retroactive to the CARES Act, the summary said.
This is important to many families because the first round of stimulus checks only went to American citizens or immigrants with resident alien status, also known as a Green Card. Legal immigrants without a Green Card, as well as undocumented immigrants, were excluded — and American citizens married to immigrants without a Green Card were also excluded, as well as their children.
Denying checks to U.S. citizens due to their spousal or parental relationship to an immigrant prompted lawsuits earlier this year over what plaintiffs claimed was an unconstitutional action.
But the latest stimulus package "successfully pushed for a provision, which is retroactive to the CARES Act, to expand these direct payments to mixed-status households, importantly providing immigrant families across the country with access to this financial relief," according to the summary.
Aside from the $600 stimulus checks, the stimulus bill also includes an extra $300 a week in unemployment aid. That means that jobless workers will receive their regular state unemployment payments, plus $300 on top of that through March 14, 2021.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers gig workers and self-employed workers, will also be extended, as will the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides additional weeks of jobless aid to those who have run out of their regular state unemployment benefits.
The Paycheck Protection Program will be extended with another $284 billion of forgivable loans. Some of the funding will be set aside for very small businesses through lenders such as Minority Depository Institutions, following criticisms that the first round of PPP loans overlooked many minority- and woman-owned businesses.
The PPP program will also expand eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, the summary noted.
Another $20 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loans will be set aside for businesses in low-income communities, while $15 billion will be directed toward live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions, which have been forced to cut back or shutter operations due to the pandemic.