Ask Answers: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Elusive Second Round of COVID-19 Relief Stimulus Checks
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. In fact, a survey conducted by SimplyWise in April 2020 found that 63% of Americans will need another stimulus check within the next three months to cover basic necessities and loan payments.
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). Now, as July comes to a close, the Republicans’ HEALS Act, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on July 27, also outlines a plan for a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks. In short, stimulus checks seem to be something both sides of the aisle can agree upon — for the most part.
The only problem? Everything else, from expanding unemployment to more government PPP loans for small businesses to aid for schools, is beyond contentious. 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. 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 HEROES Act and HEALS Act 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 aim to spend in their newly proposed HEALS Act. 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 builds 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 upholds the stimulus-check payments of the CARES Act and expands relief money for dependents ($500 for all dependents, no age limit), it also makes 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 aims to protect businesses and schools from being sued for COVID-related issues and intends to allocate $16 billion for novel coronavirus testing.
Why Is the HEALS Act So Hotly Contested?
Now, the Republican-helmed plan, the HEALS Act, seems to be the frontrunner, but it’s still hotly contested. Democrats have objected to the HEALS Act because it doesn’t extend the current unemployment benefits in full; they’re also pushing for larger stimulus checks and $1 trillion in state aid.
But many high-profile Republicans aren’t satisfied with HEALS either — and the critiques certainly run the gamut. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) thinks "[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.), want 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) wants more money to be allocated for schools, saying, "Is anything enough money at this point?"
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelll (R-Ky.) has taken issue with the proposal, namely that a whopping $1.75 billion of it has been 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."
Who Would Qualify for 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.
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 qualify for stimulus relief, but nothing has been made official. Additionally, as with the CARES Act, it is looking like people who are incarcerated now through the end of 2020 will not qualify for federal payments.
The key differences? Well, unlike the first stimulus check, both parties want 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 want to limit the amount to $500, but Democrats are vying for the $1,200 per qualifying dependent. Nothing is set in stone, but, as August looms closer, 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.