By Elisabeth Buchwald and Andrew Keshner
Now that Congress has come to an agreement on a $908 billion rescue package, the government is about to write a whole new round of direct relief checks — and quickly.
Last month, lawmakers passed a new stimulus relief bill that calls for $600 direct relief checks for each eligible adult (half the payout from the first stimulus package) and $600 for each eligible child, up from the $500 payout last time.
“People go out and spend this money and that helps small business and that helps getting more people back to work,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC . “So it’s very fast, it’s money that gets recirculated in the economy.”
The federal government cut approximately 160 million stimulus checks as part of the first round of direct payments in the spring, totaling more than $270 billion in cash assistance to American households.
To get a second round of stimulus checks out, the Treasury Department would essentially just have to “push a button and [the stimulus checks] would be in people’s bank accounts, they’ll have that money before the end of the year,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist.
That’s because the Treasury Department, during the first round of stimulus checks, compiled a “master file” of every Americans’ information who was eligible for a check, Sahm said, based on conversations she has had with officials at the department.
“I’d be shocked if the Treasury doesn’t hit send by the end of next week,” she added.
As with the first round of stimulus checks, eligible people are expected to get the money deposited directly into their bank accounts, or, in some cases, via a paper check sent through the U.S. Postal Service. The IRS will use the bank account information it has on file for Americans.
It took roughly two weeks from when the CARES Act passed in late March for the first Americans to receive relief checks via direct deposit into their bank accounts.
If an individual’s bank account information or address has changed they will have the opportunity to provide updated information to the IRS, according to a statement released Monday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal.
Income eligibility requirements are the same as last time, with a $75,000 adjusted gross income cap (based on 2019 tax return data) for individuals and a $150,000 cap for married couples who file taxes jointly.
The amount of the check decreases by $5 for every additional $100 of income above $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. Individuals who earned more than $87,000 and couples who earned more than $174,000 won’t qualify for checks.
As was the case before, these stimulus checks will not count as taxable income.
Like the first round of stimulus checks, some 13.5 million adult dependents won’t be eligible for a stimulus check, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Additionally, non-tax filers will still be eligible to receive stimulus checks through the same non-tax filer portal the IRS established under the prior round of stimulus checks. Individuals who used the portal to claim their first stimulus check will automatically receive the second payment the same way they received their first check.
In a major change from last time, stimulus checks will go out to citizens who are married to non-citizens — something that didn’t happen last time and prompted lawsuits .
The bill allows Social Security recipients, Veterans Administration beneficiaries and other federal government recipients who didn’t file income taxes to receive another economic impact payment.
Now, in a case where one spouse has a Social Security number and the other does not, the one with the Social Security number will get the $600. So will any children with Social Security numbers, according to a House summary of the bill.
Debt collectors can’t get a hold of stimulus check money, nor is it subject to bank garnishment.
President-elect Joe Biden has signaled that he would push for another round of stimulus checks in a potential third stimulus package once he takes office.
He declined to share the size of the checks he would push for, saying that it’s “a negotiating issue.” But added that “we owe [Senator] Bernie Sanders and his Republican colleagues thanks for getting not all of the stimulus we looked for — $1,200 — but getting $600 done.”
Some cash-strapped observers on social media lambasted the $600 sum as way too little . The rescue deal would also give jobless Americans an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits on top of their state benefits, which is half the weekly amount paid out under the CARES Act.
But even some financial relief is better than nothing. Jan.1, 2021 was shaping up to be a scary time when financial protections and moratoriums were set to expire. But the new rescue package could change that. The moratorium on evictions was supposed to end Dec. 31, but it’s expected to get pushed back by a month.
The Education Department already pushed back the end of year deadline to start collecting student loans. Borrowers now have a pause through Jan. 31.