Congress approves $900B COVID relief bill, sending to Trump

 


Over 160 million Americans received stimulus checks this year as the country battled widespread coronavirus outbreaks and an economy in distress. 

Most people stashed the money in savings or used it to pay off debt, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Less than one-third of US households used cash for essential and non-essential purchases. 

On Sunday, Congress reached a bipartisan deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package that includes additional $600 stimulus checks for many Americans.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions around stimulus checks.

Will there be a second stimulus check?

Yes, but it's not official yet. Congressional leaders on Sunday finalized a deal for a $900 billion coronavirus relief package and said it will include $600 stimulus checks for adults under certain income limits, plus $600 for each child.

The final bill text has not been released, but so far we know that the checks will be worth up to $600 per person with an adjusted gross income (AGI) below $75,000 and $1,200 for married couples with an AGI below $150,000. There's also an additional $600 allotted for child dependents.

Both chambers of Congress are expected to approve the legislation on Monday and send it to President Trump for a signature. 

When will we get the second stimulus check?

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday that stimulus payments could reach Americans' bank accounts as early as next week. Distribution can happen swiftly since the necessary channels are already in place from the last round of relief.

The IRS sent most stimulus payments by direct deposit or paper check and later introduced prepaid Visa debit cards, which were sent to about 4 million people. Direct deposit is the fastest method of delivery, but debit cards make the money more widely available, primarily to households without a bank account.

Who gets a second stimulus check?

According to reporting by Business Insider Joseph Zeballos-Roig, many Americans who received a stimulus check the first time around can expect to receive one as part of this relief package. 

The previous round of stimulus checks went to people who:

  • Had a Social Security number.
  • Had filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, or didn't earn enough to file but receive federal benefits payments, including Social Security retirement or disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Veterans Affairs benefits.
  • Was not claimed by someone else as a dependent.

In this second round of payments, individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of up to $75,000 will qualify to receive the full $600 payment. Married joint filers with an AGI of $150,000 will qualify for $1,200. Dependent children are eligible for their own $600 payments.

Is a $600 stimulus check enough?

While the $600 payments are half the amount Americans received in the first round of stimulus, the legislation also extends unemployment benefits for 11 weeks and provides funds for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, emergency rental assistance, childcare providers, and small businesses.

Prominent economists have repeatedly urged Congress to authorize more stimulus checks. In an open letter signed by 125 economists in November, they called stimulus checks an "essential tool" for keeping millions of families out of poverty during the pandemic. 

During negotiations, many top Democratic lawmakers said $600 direct cash payments were insufficient. Before a deal was reached, a group of 17 progressive Democrats signed a letter to congressional leadership urging $2,000 stimulus checks, Business Insider's Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported. Twitter users last week mocked the smaller check. 

"This is just the first step. This is an emergency," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a press conference Sunday evening. "We need a second bill to continue dealing with the emergency and to start stimulating our economy so we get back to where we were. That will be job No. 1 in the new Biden administration."

What is a stimulus check?

A stimulus check is a non-taxable, direct cash payment. The money can be used however you want and doesn't need to be repaid to the government.

The first round of stimulus checks was approved back in March. They were part of the $2 trillion CARES Act that also expanded unemployment benefits and provide loans to struggling businesses. 

A stimulus check is actually a tax credit that reduces your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Some tax credits are refundable, meaning if you don't have a tax bill large enough to use the full credit, you will get the money as a refund.

The IRS, which distributed these payments to Americans through direct deposit and mailed checks, calls them Economic Impact Payments. The maximum payments were $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples who file taxes jointly. There was also an additional $500 for dependents under age 17.

What if I didn't get the first stimulus check?

Over 160 million stimulus checks have been sent since April. If you didn't get one, there's a chance you don't qualify. You need to be a US citizen or resident alien, have a Social Security number, and not be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.

If you meet all those requirements and still didn't get a stimulus check, it's possible your income disqualified you. The IRS determined payment amounts using taxpayers' most recently filed tax return, either 2019 or 2018. Your adjusted gross income (AGI) needed to be less than $99,000 as a single filer, $136,500 as a head of household, or $198,000 as a married joint filer to receive a payment. 

If your income didn't meet those thresholds in 2018 or 2019, but it did in 2020, then you can claim your payment — formally called a Recovery Rebate Credit — on your 2020 tax return. 

What if I need financial help now?

There is a slate of government programs that can help with unemployment benefits, mortgage relief, student-loan forbearance, small business loans, food and other household expenses, and health insurance. Credit-card companies and banks are also offering financial assistance. 

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