The Senate approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday, directing a third round of stimulus checks to most Americans. That's prompting questions about when the checks might land in bank accounts, especially for those who are coping with job or income loss.
The bill will return to the House early next week for final approval, given that the Senate and House versions of the relief bill have some differences, and then head to Mr. Biden for his signature. After the bill is signed into law, the IRS could begin delivering the checks within days to one week, based on the timeframe for the previous round of checks — potentially as early as the weekend of March 13.
"By next weekend, a couple making less than $160,000 could well have $2,800 deposited into their checking account," Chris Krueger of Cowen & Co. said in an analyst note before the Senate approved the bill, which he had expected would occur this weekend.
The passage of the spending bill was heralded by anti-poverty and unemployment experts, who said that the $1,400 checks as well as other provisions — such as an extension of the $300 per-week extra jobless aid and an expansion of the Child Tax Credit — will help families pay their bills and lift children out of poverty. Almost half of Americans are still experiencing financial pain one year after the pandemic shuttered the economy and caused massive layoffs, according to new research from the Pew Research Center.
"Working families will get $1,400 per individual from a third stimulus check, plus they will benefit from a muscled-up child tax credit of $3,000 per child," noted Andrew Stettner, an expert on unemployment at the Century Foundation, in an emailed statement Saturday. "That is real aid that can help reverse the unprecedented economic inequities laid bare and exacerbated by the pandemic."
He added, "The federal response to COVID-19 has already averted poverty for millions of Americans, and this package is poised to continue that critical work."
The Senate passage of the bill Saturday was met with cheers and applause from Democrats, who all voted in favor of it. Because GOP Senator Dan Sullivan left due to a family emergency on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris did not need to visit the Capitol to break any ties.
However, fewer Americans may receive checks in the third round of stimulus payments due to a change in the Senate's version of the bill. Mr. Biden and moderate Democratic senators struck a deal that limits the number of households qualifying for the $1,400 checks. The revised limits would make millions of Americans ineligible for the payment.
The Senate bill directs the $1,400 direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000, but cuts off eligibility for single people earning more than $80,000. For couples who file a joint federal income tax return, the phase-out begins at those making $150,000 and ends at $160,000.
"I wanted the keep the income threshold at the previous levels" — $75,000 for single people and $150,000 for couples— said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon on Wednesday in a call with reporters before the vote. "And we have succeeded on that front."
He added, "I would have preferred what we had earlier, but I don't want to distract people from the basic accomplishment" of keeping the $75,000 and $150,000 income thresholds.
Democrats want the bill to be signed into law before March 14, when the current extra $300 in weekly unemployment aid is set to expire. The Senate bill extends the $300 boost through September, in contrast with the House bill that would raise the increase to $400 a week through August.
In addition to the $1,400 checks, the bill would provide funding for small businesses, schools, and cities and states; offer families with kids a tax break; and boost government spending on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
If the bill is signed into law by March 12, the Friday before extra jobless aid is set to expire, stimulus checks could begin hitting bank accounts anywhere from a few days to a week following that, based on the IRS' time frame for distributing the second round of stimulus checks in December.
Earlier this month, the IRS said it is watching the relief bill to prepare to distribute the next round of payments. "We are keeping our eyes closely on the hill," said Ken Corbin, the chief taxpayer experience officer at the IRS, although he didn't forecast when the tax agency could distribute the checks.
The IRS relies on a taxpayer's most recent tax return to determine how much they should receive and when they might receive it. That's why some tax experts are urging taxpayers to file their returns as soon as possible, especially if they had a major life change, such as the birth of a child or the loss of a job or income last year.
Because the IRS officially started accepting tax returns on February 12 and will close the filing window on its customary date of April 15, the bill could be signed into law during the middle of tax filing season.
If a taxpayer doesn't file their 2020 tax returns before the bill is signed into law, the agency will likely rely on their 2019 tax return to calculate their stimulus check payment — and that 2019 return might not reflect income losses during last year's economic crisis or a new child, for example. In that case, a taxpayer might not receive as much stimulus money as they are entitled to.
A person's income is the chief determinant of whether they'll get a check, as well as the payment amount.
The payments would amount to $1,400 for a single person or $2,800 for a married couple filing jointly. Only individuals earning up to $75,000 would get the full payments, as would married couples with incomes up to $150,000. Payments would decline for incomes above those thresholds.
The Senate bill cuts single people with incomes over $80,000 and married couples earning more than $160,000. Under the first stimulus check, the cut-offs were higher, at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for married couples.
Some lawmakers have argued that the checks should be targeted to lower-income families, citing research that shows that higher-income families are rebounding from the pandemic's economic impact. But other research signals widespread financial pain throughout the nation, with the ranks of adults experiencing financial hardship last month little changed from December, according to Morning Consult economist John Leer.
A third round of $1,400 checks would allow nearly 23 million adults to pay their expenses for more than four months without going into more debt or eating into their savings, his analysis found.
"That third stimulus check is absolutely vital," Credit Karma Chief People Officer Colleen McCreary told CBS MoneyWatch. "I don't see a world where people will have their financial footing without some additional stimulus money."
First published on February 26, 2021 / 5:49 PM
© 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.