By this time last year, Congress had just passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, a massive piece of emergency legislation with its most noteworthy component being the funding for a wave of stimulus checks that the government would send out directly to millions of Americans. It was a breathtakingly dramatic response to the still-new COVID-19 pandemic that most us probably at the time didn’t think we’d still be dealing with the effects of more than a year later. And how extraordinary it would have felt — again, at the time — if we’d have known then that not one but two more stimulus checks would be sent out to Americans as a consequence of the financial impact of the pandemic being so terrible?
At any rate, the call has already begun for Americans to be sent a new stimulus check for the fourth time, with a group of Democratic senators earlier this week led by Oregon’s Ron Wyden writing to President Biden: “We urge you to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in your Build Back Better long-term economic plan.”
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We know some of you still have not yet received your third stimulus check yet, but based on news such as the Senators’ letter, does this mean you should go ahead and start anticipating a fourth COVID-19 payment from Uncle Sam?
We’re going to go ahead and file that into the ‘unlikely’ category. At least, not a stimulus payment styled as such, the way these last three have been direct checks of money to most Americans. But we’ll also qualify our statement thus:
Is the federal safety net probably irrevocably changed at this point, such that people expect and are accustomed to an expansion of federal benefits in a way they might not have been prior to the coronavirus pandemic? Absolutely. What that means is, while there may not be political will for sending more stimulus checks for a couple of thousand dollars to tens of millions of Americans, this is not to say that adding to an already existing benefit — like, expanding the child tax care credit — can’t happen, and in fact, it might even be an easier lift.
“I think it’s unlikely at this time,” Raymond James Washington policy analyst Ed Mills told CNBC about the likelihood of a fourth round of stimulus checks.
What the Biden administration has apparently come to realize, though, is that it could achieve that same goal by putting the benefit it wants to distribute inside a different box, as it were, decorated with different wrapping paper. It’s much less of a political hot potato, for example, to hike jobless aid — which, if we’re going to be completely accurate, counts as a kind of stimulus check, given the form in which you receive it.
Mills also noted that the child tax credit could very well get expanded beyond this year. Once the payments kick in stemming from the expanded benefit level made possible by the recent $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation, that will add between $500 to $600 to monthly budgets for a family of four, per Mills. In other words, it will probably be much easier to keep that benefit going, rather than pull it back anytime soon.
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