There is some not great news on the COVID-19 relief front going all the way back to the CARES Act, that first major coronavirus relief bill passed on March 27, 2020. That bill included the first round of survival checks, one-time payments for everyone of up to $1,200—$2,400 for couples and $500 for dependent children younger than 17. With the next COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, on tap for next week in the House, lawmakers need to make sure that the next round of assistance gets to everyone who needs it.
The problem is that around 9 million Americans still hadn’t received that check by the end of September, according to a Brookings Institution report. The missing and delayed payments “exacerbated their anxiety during an already anxiety-filled crisis,” the report said. That’s about 1 in 20 eligible people who didn’t receive checks. For some families who did receive the checks, they’d have had to pay to access their payments in check-cashing fees—paying $195 or more to get their money.
“Financially vulnerable and coping consumers often visit such providers in order to access funds quickly, even if they have a bank account,” Dan Murphy, the report’s author, wrote. “While there are many reasons for this, the payments system in the United States has helped to entrench the use of these products, as consumers often cannot afford to wait for their paycheck to clear.” The IRS eventually set up a “Get My Payment” tool, which allowed people who have bank accounts to submit direct deposit information and track the status of their checks. That’s shutting down, the IRS says, and it shouldn’t be. It should be made permanent, the Brookings analysis recommends, “to avoid future stimulus payment delays and that those payments are protected from bank garnishments.”
The IRS is also advising that everyone file their taxes—even those who don’t normally have to file because they’re income is too low to require it—so that they’re in the IRS’ system. That will help payments get out faster, and importantly, make sure that the IRS has the most up-to-date income information. That’s particularly important for people who’ve lost income during the pandemic because the payments are means tested based on income reported to the IRS.
The next round of COVID-19 survival checks is in the bill (page 445) that the House still intends to pass by the end of next week, and which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to his members to have passed by the March 14 deadline, when expanded and extended emergency unemployment insurance benefits expire. The Century Foundation warned in a recent report that missing that deadline would cause 11.4 million people to start losing all of their jobless aid, including benefits from state programs.
House Republicans are, of course, opposing the legislation already, sending out a memo to members calling the bill “Pelosi’s Payoff to Progressives Act.” In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent out her own statement, reminding Republicans that the Biden American Rescue Plan:
- is supported by 73 percent of Americans (including a majority of Republicans) and backed by economists on both sides of the aisle.
- delivers $1400 checks to millions of Americans and Moody’s found will it create 10 million American jobs.
- provides $160B to reopen schools and keep them open.
“Americans need help,” she wrote. “House Republicans don’t care.”