Ask Answers: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Elusive Second Round of COVID-19 Relief Stimulus Checks
Updated | August 27: Between conventions, recesses and an inability to pass a CARES Act follow up, it feels like a much-needed second round of stimulus checks is still far off. But don’t give up on the monetary relief yet. As of August 27, there are two options:
- Lawmakers can either come up with a piece of standalone legislation regarding stimulus checks.
- Or they have to come to some kind of agreement and pass another (ever-elusive) economic stimulus package, one that includes a second round of payments for eligible Americans (more on that below).
According to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, once one of these options is signed into law, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can issue payments within a week — seemingly a bit quicker than that first round of checks, which was plagued with distribution problems.
On March 27, federal lawmakers enacted a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, in order to help Americans navigate financial hardships in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Among its many benefits, the act increased federal unemployment to $600 a week and provided many Americans with relief checks — one-time payments totaling up to $1,200 per individual who reported an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less in 2019. While the one-time $1,200 relief check certainly helped, millions of unemployed Americans felt (and still feel) that it didn’t go far enough to mitigate the financial burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that time, as May bills loomed close, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) proposed the Emergency Money for the People Act (EMPA), which intended to provide stimulus payments of $2,000 a month to qualifying Americans for six months, with the option to renew the program. Moreover, to account for the delayed CARES checks, EMPA would have allowed funds to be distributed by more 21st century payment platforms, like Venmo and PayPal. Of course, that plan didn’t pan out.
In May, Democrats called for another round of $1,200 payments as part of their HEROES Act, which the House passed (but the Senate refused to take up). The Republicans’ HEALS Act, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on July 27, also outlined a plan for a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks.
In short, stimulus checks seemed to be something both sides of the aisle could agree upon. That was until Republicans introduced yet another bill in August, nicknamed the "skinny" bill — one that didn't include stimulus checks at all. After the GOP's failure to pass the "skinny" bill, lawmakers are once again at an impasse.
The slow decision-making is frustrating, perhaps even more so for Americans without jobs since the $600 per week unemployment earnings ended on July 31 and Donald Trump's executive order to restart $400 weekly unemployment payments is still getting off the ground. According to CNBC, these proposals would "impact nearly 32 million Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits — about five times the level of the Great Recession more than a decade ago."
How Do the Various Proposed Acts Compare to March’s CARES Act?
The number of COVID-19-related relief package acronyms being thrown around can be a bit confusing. So, first things first: What are the key differences between all of these acts? First up, the CARES Act was the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package passed in March — it’s where that first round of relief checks and those enhanced unemployment benefits came from.
As for the follow-ups, the Democratic-led House of Representatives proposed the HEROES Act in May, calling for a relief package worth triple what Republicans aimed to spend in their counter-proposal, HEALS Act. Now that efforts to reach a compromise between the two have fallen flat, the GOP has proposed yet another new bill — one that doesn't include any provisions for another stimulus check. Need a quick breakdown? We’ve got you covered.
The Acts at a Glance:
- CARES Act: In total, the package cost $2.2 trillion. It provided stimulus checks to many, but not all, Americans ($1,200 for single filers earning under $75,000 and $2,400 for joint filers under $125,000); provided an extra $500 for all dependents age 17 and under (excluding college students); provided enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 per week in addition to state benefits through July 31; allocated $659 billion in PPP loans for small businesses; and banned late fees until July 25 and evictions until August 24.
- HEROES Act: Coming in at $3 trillion, this proposal would build off the CARES Act. The key differences? Dependents would receive $1,200, instead of $500, for up to three dependents per household. Enhanced unemployment benefits would extend through January 2021 for most workers and continue through March 2021 for independent contractors, part-time workers, people who are self-employed and "gig" workers. PPP loan eligibility would expand, and the eviction moratorium would be extended (and expand who’s covered under that) for an additional 12 months. Lastly, the act would allocate $300 billion total for housing programs and rental assistance and provide $58 billion in funds for grade schools and $42 billion for higher education.
- HEALS Act: This package totals $1 trillion in costs and, while it proposed to uphold the stimulus-check payments of the CARES Act and expand relief money for dependents ($500 for all dependents, no age limit), it also made key changes. Unemployment benefits would drop to $200 per week through September, then go up to $500 to match 70% of lost wages when added into the state benefits. The act would allocate $190 billion into the PPP fund and expand eligibility while providing money for a "return to work" bonus for people who secure new jobs. It would also provide $70 billion to K-12 schools, with the caveat that they must open in person, and allocate $29 billion for higher education, $1 billion for the Bureau of Indian Education and $5 billion to be used at states’ discretion. The proposal also aimed to protect businesses and schools from being sued for COVID-related issues and intended to allocate $16 billion for novel coronavirus testing.
- The Latest Proposal: Introduced in August, the GOP's newest economic relief bill proposal is a much more pared-down offering compared to HEROES and HEALS. Compared to the $1 trillion cost of HEALS, the new bill would cost just $500 billion, with none of that money funding stimulus checks. Instead, it would be allocated toward funding the U.S. Postal Service, testing for the coronavirus, the PPP fund, help for U.S. schools and the enhanced unemployment provisions Donald Trump outlined in recent executive orders to continue those payments. Unemployment payments under this new act would include $300 coming from the federal government and $100 from state governments, for a total of $400 per check through December 2020. Additionally, $10 billion would go towards funding the USPS.
Why Are These Proposed Acts So Hotly Contested?
While the Republican-helmed HEALS Act initially seemed to be the frontrunner, both HEROES and HEALS were hotly contested. And now that a third proposal has entered the arena in the midst of negotiation breakdowns, things are becoming even more complicated. Democrats objected to the HEALS Act because it didn’t extend the current unemployment benefits in full; they were also pushing for larger stimulus checks and $1 trillion in state aid.
Many high-profile Republicans weren’t satisfied with HEALS either — and the critiques certainly ran the gamut. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stated "[We] should be focused on reopening the economy, not simply shoveling trillions of dollars out of Washington." Others, like Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), wanted to limit the scope of relief checks, arguing that some folks who received the first round of federal payments didn’t need them. Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wanted more money to be allocated for schools, saying, "Is anything enough money at this point?"
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took issue with the proposal, namely that a whopping $1.75 billion of it was earmarked for a new FBI headquarters, something President Trump urged to include. "When we get to the end of the process," McConnell told CNBC reporters on July 28, "I would hope all of the non-COVID-related measures are out."
Why did negotiations between HEALS and HEROES fall apart? Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summed it up by noting, "We're very far apart. It's very unfortunate." The two parties ultimately failed to reach a satisfying agreement because what the groups wanted from their separate plans was so different that it was difficult to find common ground on which to work things out. Considering that there were so many issues in negotiating the provisions of HEALS and HEROES, it's unclear how the newest bill will pan out. It appears to leave both sides with less to work with — but this simplified offering may make it easier to focus on the few specific issues it does address.
What's Happening With a Second Round of Stimulus Checks?
In plans proposed by both Democrats and the GOP, the qualifications for the second round of relief checks would remain quite similar to the qualifications of the CARES Act. That is, individual adults who reported adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less on their 2019 tax returns would receive a one-time $1,200 payment, whereas married couples who filed jointly and made less than $150,000 would receive $2,400. Qualifying earners would receive an additional $500 for each child under the age of 17. However, now that the GOP has introduced its latest proposal, which would cost just $500 billion compared to the HEALS Act's $1 trillion, the future of stimulus checks is uncertain: The latest bill wouldn't allocate any money for stimulus checks, so Americans will not receive them if the bill passes.
Under the CARES Act, non-citizens and undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. were ineligible for federal payments — in fact, U.S. citizens who are married to someone who is an undocumented immigrant or non-citizen were also ineligible. According to The New York Times, roughly 1.2 million American citizens are married to undocumented immigrants, meaning a large segment of the population did not receive aid. This time around, mixed-status couples who file jointly might've qualified for stimulus relief, but nothing was made official. Additionally, as with the CARES Act, it looked like people who are incarcerated now through the end of 2020 would not qualify for federal payments.
The key differences? Well, unlike the first stimulus check, both parties supporting HEALS and HEROES wanted all dependents — including children over 17, college students, adults with disabilities and folks who are otherwise claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return — to be eligible for that additional payment income. Republicans wanted to limit the amount to $500 through HEALS, but Democrats have been vying for the $1,200 per qualifying dependent. Now that the latest act has been introduced, it's possible that stimulus checks won't be distributed at all. As negotiations continue to stall, many Americans are eager for answers, direction and aid. Here’s hoping that all comes sooner rather than later.
Right now, decisions are still being made and everything is up in the air. Please check back for the most up-to-date information on the second round of stimulus checks and COVID-19-related relief.