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Millions of Americans are suffering financially amid the gradual reopening of the U.S. economy.
And there are multiple ways the U.S. government could extend more relief.
The question is which one it will choose — and exactly how much cash could end up in your wallet.
As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation in March, Congress ushered in a $2 trillion package that sent checks of up to $1,200 per adult to low- to middle- income individuals. Families were also eligible for $500 per child under age 17.
Americans would love to receive more financial help. One WalletHub survey found that 84% want another stimulus check.
Meanwhile, Bankrate found in early April that 31% of Americans said the first stimulus check wouldn’t boost their financial well being for more than a month.
More than 40 million people have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.
“There’s a lot of people that are still working, but they’re working for less money,” McBride said. “They’re not making the money they were before.”
Among the proposals are another one-time round of $1,200 stimulus checks or sending Americans $2,000 per month. Some Republicans have pushed for $450 a week in so-called back-to-work bonuses. Meanwhile, others are pushing to extend the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits.
Guaranteed income of $2,000 a month
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at Tyler Perry Studios November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
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On Monday, former presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., spoke out in support of creating a universal basic income to help Americans weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Harris, along with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., proposed a bill in May that would give $2,000 per month to people making under $120,000, plus $2,000 per child for up to three children.
“The government should be here for the people in a moment of crisis,” Harris said during a Monday webcast hosted by news website The Appeal.
The one-time $1,200 checks sent out by the government are not enough, according to Harris.
“Can you imagine someone saying, ‘You only need to pay rent once ever?'” Harris said. “The reality of life is that people have recurring expenses.”
A petition with Change.org has gathered 1.2 million signatures supporting the idea. Other proposals in the House have called for sending Americans the same amount of money.
Yet some experts aren’t convinced the proposal is the best strategy for helping those in need.
“We need a strong federal response,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “But using up a lot of those federal dollars on sending $2,000 a month checks to people who don’t really need it would not be an effective use of federal intervention.”
Another round of $1,200 checks
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delivers a statement on the Heroes Act aid package on May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill.
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The Democratic-led House of Representatives has passed a sweeping $3 trillion bill that would include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks.
The terms of the payments would be similar to the first round. That includes payments of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 per married couple.
But children would get $1,200 apiece, up from $500 in the first round, up to a maximum of three children.
That means families would stand to get as much as $6,000.
To be eligible, you would have to meet certain income thresholds, based on either your 2018 or 2019 tax return. Individuals who make up to $75,000 would get full payments, which would be reduced for income above that amount and eliminated altogether at $99,000. Married couples who file jointly would get full checks at up to $150,000 in income. Those who earn above $198,000 would not be eligible.
The proposal is a starting point for negotiations with the Republican-led Senate, and could be subject to change.
The problem with the checks is that they don’t necessarily target those who most need them, said Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“What’s most important is that top priority be given to the people who are harmed,” Marr said.
Extending $600 unemployment bonus
Joseph Louis joins others in a protest asking the state of Florida to fix its unemployment system on May 22, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida.
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The House Democrats’ proposal, if passed, would also extend the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits through the end of January 2021.
Currently, that extra money is set to stop in late July.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the next coronavirus stimulus bill will not extend those benefits.
However, experts argue that money would target the people who need financial help the most.
“The case for much, much more generous unemployment insurance at a time when jobs are going to be super-scarce is really strong,” said Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute. “It’s just incredibly well targeted.”
We will likely need extended unemployment benefits for 12 months or more, Bivens said.
A $450 weekly bonus to get back to work
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, talks with reporters before the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on June 5, 2018.
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One proposal from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, seeks to give Americans who return to work a $450 weekly bonus.
The money would be in addition to the salary they are earning.
The incentive would make it more lucrative to return to work. A recent study from the University of Chicago and American Action Forum found that 60% to 70% of people on unemployment are making more than they did at their regular jobs, because of enhanced federal benefits.
“The point is to have a bonus to go back to work, which helps everybody, helps the worker, helps the small business and helps the taxpayer,” Portman said in an interview with CNBC.
Such a strategy would not fully replace unemployment benefits, which millions of families in need are relying on, Akabas said. It could also unevenly reward people because some individuals never stopped working, he said.
Money moves to make while waiting for government help
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It could take weeks for Congress to hammer out a deal for additional help.
In the meantime, there are emergency moves people can make if their income is falling short, according to McBride.
That starts with filing for unemployment, if you’re eligible, or other forms of aid such as food stamps or Medicaid.
Also, communicate with your mortgage, auto and credit card lenders and explain your situation.
“On a scale unlike we’ve ever seen before, payment relief options are on the table,” McBride said. “But you have to be the one to raise your hand and ask for it.”
If you are still working, focus on building up an emergency fund to prepare for the unexpected.