President Joe Biden promised to get more relief to Americans quickly to help people survive financially until the pandemic is under control. A key part of Biden’s proposal is to send another round of cash payments directly to U.S. households.
Some economists, Republicans and moderate Democrats have argued that this third round of “economic impact payments” – more commonly referred to as “stimulus checks” or “relief payments” – should go only to the hardest-hit families. Some say the payments are a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress argue a third round of stimulus checks is necessary to ensure people who have lost their jobs or taken a pay cut still have enough money to buy food, pay rent and get the medical care they need during a pandemic. But the White House has signaled the president is willing to narrow who gets them, sending checks only to low- and moderate-income families this time around.
The latest proposal Democrats are considering would send $1,400 payments to individuals earning $50,000 or less and $2,800 to married couples earning $100,000 or less. Below are more details on the latest plan, which has not been publicly released yet and could still change. A Democratic aide cautioned Monday that the plan had not been finalized.
Q: Who would get a $1,400 payment?
A: Individuals with incomes up to $50,000 would get the full $1,400 payment. Heads of household earning up to $75,000 would also qualify, and married couples with earnings up to $100,000 would get a $2,800 payment. (Past stimulus checks were based off “adjusted gross income,” and that is likely to be the same again).
Similar to the prior rounds of stimulus checks, people who earn slightly above those thresholds would still qualify for a partial payment.
About 71% of Americans would get the full benefits and another 17% would get the partial benefit, according to Kyle Pomerleau, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in tax policy. This is less than Biden’s initial proposal for the payments to go to individuals earning up to $75,000 and married couples earning up to $150,000, which would result in about 85% getting full payments.
Q: How big would payments be for kids?
A: Under the Democratic plan that is taking shape, parents of children would receive an additional $1,400 per child. That means a family of four would receive $5,600.
Democrats are separately pushing a child tax benefit that would provide over the course of a year $3,600 per children younger than 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17. A version of that plan is expected in the final agreement.
Q: When could the payments start going out?
A: The new round of $1,400 payments would not go out until after Congress passes its broad relief package. The Senate took the first step in that process by approving a budget resolution early Friday morning after an all-night debate. House Democratic leaders have indicated they will move quickly as well.
White House officials are determined to finalize the legislation before mid-March – when millions of jobless Americans would begin losing unemployment benefits if Congress does not act to prevent it.
Once the legislation is signed, payments should start going out in a matter of days. The bulk of the second round of payments worth $600 each went out within three weeks via direct deposit. Mailed checks take slightly longer.
The potential hitch is the Internal Revenue Service typically sends out the payments, and the IRS will be in the middle of a busy tax filing season from mid-February through mid-April. The IRS staff is stretched thin, meaning there could be delays as the agency juggles both tax filings and stimulus payments.
Q: How much would this third round of stimulus payments cost?
A: This latest Democratic proposal for $1,400 payments to singles earning up to $50,000 and couples earning up to $100,000 would cost around $420 billion, according to Marc Goldwein, senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That’s down slightly from Biden’s initial proposal for the checks, which would have cost about $465 billion and gone to singles earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000, according to CRFB.
Q: Will the payments be based on 2019 income or 2020 income?
A: While no final proposal has been released, Democrats have explored basing eligibility for the stimulus payments on prior year income, meaning people would have to qualify for the checks based on what they earned in 2019 or 2020, according to a person granted familiar to discuss internal planning.
Q: Would ‘adult dependents’ get a payment this time?
A: Adult dependents are eligible for stimulus payments under the Democrats’ current plan, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.
In the two prior rounds of stimulus payments, people over age 17 who could be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return – such as college students or disabled adults – were not eligible for any stimulus money. About 13.5 million adult dependents were excluded, according to the People’s Policy Project, a left-leaning think tank.
Q: Will these checks help the economy?
A: There’s conflicting debate about the effectiveness of the direct payments. Most economists support giving more relief to Americans who are struggling to put food on the table or keep their small business from closing. But there’s concern that a lot of families are saving their stimulus money. When people save the money, it does not boost the economy. Economists see such savings as a sign the family did not need the money for basic necessities.
A New York Federal Reserve survey found that 36% of the first round stimulus payments was saved. Another 35% was used to pay down debt. Only 18% was spent on essentials like food and rent. The remaining 11% was either donated or spent on nonessential items like video games.
An estimate of Biden’s proposed stimulus checks by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model predicted 73% of the $1,400 relief payments “will go directly into household savings and produce limited stimulus effects.” The White House pushed back against that forecast, arguing there would be a large, positive impact from the payments.
The best argument in favor of the checks is that they have kept many Americans out of poverty during the crisis. An analysis by the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found the bottom 20% of Americans – those earning less than $21,300 – would see their income rise nearly 30%, helping keep them out of poverty.
Q: What happened to the $600 stimulus payments that just went out?
A: Americans started to receive the $600 stimulus payments in their bank accounts on Jan. 4. Economists at Opportunity Insights, a research center, tracked how many of the payments were saved versus spent. They found that in January, people with incomes less than $46,000 were quick to spend the money, while people with incomes more than $78,000 were highly likely to save it.
Opportunity Insights co-directors Raj Chetty and John Friedman have argued strongly for limiting a third round of stimulus payments to individuals earning less than $50,000 and couples earning less than $75,000. They say the need is by far the greatest among these modest-income families and the economic boost will be much larger if the money goes to lower-income families because they are likely to spend it right away. The latest Democratic proposal moves in that direction, although it is more generous to couples.
Q: Are Democrats unified on the check proposal?
A: Senior Democratic officials have split sharply over the last several months on the need and structure of the stimulus payments.
Initially, during the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden only gave measured support for the idea, saying he would support another round of payments if economic conditions required. However, Biden enthusiastically endorsed the checks during the Georgia runoff elections, vowing Americans would receive $2,000 stimulus payments if Democrats won those races.
Biden has since insisted on sending stimulus payments worth $1,400, to supplement the $600 December payments (for a total of $2,000), while expressing openness to tightening eligibility surrounding who receives them. Centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he would like to see the checks phase out beginning at $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples. Manchin is working with a bipartisan group of senators on this more targeted approach.
More liberal Democrats have instead called for the stimulus payments to be more generous. Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., helped lead legislation, co-sponsored by then-Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., that called for providing monthly checks worth $2,000 to Americans until the pandemic ends. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and others on the left have also said Democrats should provide a new round of $2,000 payments.
Incoming Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also said in a statement Wednesday that the payments should remain at the income thresholds of previous rounds. Sanders and Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., whose victory in Georgia helped secure the Senate for Democrats, also oppose the plan to lower the income thresholds on the payments.
Q: What have Republicans said about the checks?
A: Republican policymakers have offered conflicting views about the stimulus payments.
Trump was a forceful advocate for the payments, which included his name on the earlier round of checks. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and a handful of Senate Republicans also expressed support for $2,000 payments, but other Republican lawmakers panned them as wasteful government spending.
A group of 10 GOP Senators seeking a bipartisan deal with Biden pitched $1,000 stimulus payments. That group suggested dramatically lowered income thresholds to $40,000 per year for singles and $80,000 for couples. Many of the Republican lawmakers in the group – led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine – are skeptical of the merits of the payments but included them as a good-faith effort to show Biden they were serious about negotiating, according to one person familiar with the group’s discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal dynamics.
Q: What has the White House said about this proposal?
A: White House officials have been adamant that the $1,400 stimulus checks must be included in the relief plan, and that Biden is not open to lowering that amount.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said the administration is open to lowering the income thresholds on the payments. She has also declined to say the administration’s preferred position on the thresholds, appearing to defer to negotiations with Congress on the matter.
Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said at a press briefing on Friday that lawmakers could also increase the rate at which the size of the benefit diminishes. Under prior versions of the stimulus checks, the size of the benefit decreased by 5% for every dollar amount over the threshold. Congress could increase that amount so the benefit diminishes more rapidly for higher earners.
“There is a discussion about the phaseout and what that looks like,” Psaki said at Friday’s press briefing. “A full conclusion has not been made.”