• The latest coronavirus stimulus check update we have is not good — at the earliest, stimulus checks won’t start to be distributed until sometime in September, and that’s under the most optimistic timeline.
  • That assumes Senators come back to the negotiating table and actually pass the coronavirus relief package they’ve let languish. That includes funding for stimulus checks, but it has fallen victim to a legislative stalemate over other issues.
  • We’ve seen a wide range of proposals including one that would give Americans a massive $12,000 stimulus check followed by $2,000 monthly payments, but everything around the prospect of new stimulus checks has arguably been made much harder than it needs to be by Congress.

All of the legislative drama surrounding the federal government’s potential issuance of new coronavirus-related stimulus checks over the past several weeks has underscored a universal truth about Uncle Sam that seems to be true in both good times and bad, in both normal times as well as during the coronavirus era that we find ourselves in now. While we all wait for a new stimulus check update, which will presumably come if Congress ever gets around to passing another coronavirus relief package, it’s helpful to remember this: Federal lawmakers are exceedingly good at making things much harder than they need to be.

Take, for example, the collapse of talks in the US Senate over the last couple of weeks, which brought the prospect of a new stimulus bill’s passage grinding to a halt. Senators found much to contend with each other about, like an extension of unemployment aid. While President Trump tried to tackle some of the things that would have been in a stimulus package in a piecemeal fashion via executive orders, there has been no progress made on getting new stimulus checks sent out to desperate Americans.

This is all such a shame because this should have been an easy win — there’s as much support as you’re likely to see right now on both sides of the aisle for this. And letting the prospect of new stimulus checks evaporate for the time being (under even the most optimistic scenario, they couldn’t go out for another month now that the Senate has broken for recess) is arguably a slap in the face for the tens of millions of Americans newly unemployed, through no fault of their own, as a result of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This is also something of a self-inflicted defeat for Republicans and President Trump, who had promised new checks were just around the bend and that they’d be even bigger than last time — that is, before the GOP snatched a loss from the jaws of victory.

But setting all that aside, even the structure of the first stimulus check effort was a bit of a headscratcher and points in its own way to lawmakers just avoiding anything remotely simple when it comes to stimulus checks.

Aaron Klein, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, told CNBC in a recent interview that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds for lawmakers to tie the first wave of stimulus checks to peoples’ incomes, with Americans phasing out of the max stimulus check amount depending on how much they make in a year.

“Income is far more variable for many families than policymakers appreciate,” said Klein, the policy director of Brookings’ center on regulation and markets. Income volatility has been on the rise in recent years, Klein continued, with policymakers holding on to some outdated assumptions about the nature of work — like the fact that people get a predictable raise and that their income climbs from one year to the next.

“That is based on the world of generations ago,” he said. “One reason policymakers have failed to appreciate the growth of income volatility is that they themselves have the most stable incomes and jobs.”

The Democrat-led House of Representatives has passed a bill that includes funding for new stimulus checks. But the Senate left town for a few weeks while a companion bill of its own is still languishing. Unfortunately, it may get harder to pass something that includes support for new stimulus checks the closer we get to the November election when the political environment will be more charged than ever.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.