Putting stimulus checks on autopilot

stimulus checks
@RLTheis / Twenty20

Democrats have been pushing for new relief payments that would be "automatic stabilizers" — they'd be distributed without any vote from Congress, to offer speedy support for the economy and U.S. households.

The lawmakers say additional direct aid would keep more Americans out of poverty, and provide them with certainty that relief is coming whenever the economy shows signs of trouble.

"Families and workers shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ll have enough money to pay for essentials in the months ahead as the country continues to fight a global pandemic and recession," according to a recent letter addressed to Biden and signed by seven Democrats on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Government surveys have found that many people spent their relief money on essential food and housing costs, though popular uses also have included saving, investing and spending on other items. Affordable life insurance may be one of those, as demand for policies has seen a sharp increase of late.

Over 80 members of Congress have put themselves on record in support of at least one more stimulus check.

How stabilizer stimmies would be triggered

restaurant worker
@alinabuzunova / Twenty20

The trigger to release an automatic round of direct payments could be an economic indicator, like the unemployment rate. If it fell below a certain figure, stimulus checks would go out. Once it went back above that level, the payments would stop.

Lawmakers also want to see beefed-up unemployment benefits paid out automatically, based on economic conditions. Extra federal jobless benefits, of $300 per week, are set to expire on Labor Day.

Struggling Americans are pleading for additional relief. Over 2.3 million individuals have signed a Change.org petition calling for $2,000 checks for adults and $1,000 for children to be delivered regularly "for the duration of the crisis."

"Congress needs to make recurring checks automatic if certain triggers are met," the petition says. "No more waiting around for our government to send the help we need."

What might Biden do?

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at the White House in Washington, DC,.

The president hasn't addressed the automatic stabilizers proposal — in fact, he hasn't even said whether he'd support a fourth stimulus check. But while Congress was on its recent Memorial Day recess, his spokeswoman said Biden was "open" to another payment.

"He's happy to hear from a range of ideas on what would be most effective and what’s most important to the economy moving forward," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a White House news briefing.

But she added that the president has already offered the proposals he believes will do the most good. Those include trillion-dollar spending packages to fix America's crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and to provide more benefits to U.S. families.

For now, the White House and Democrats in Congress are putting a spotlight on another kind of stimulus payments already in the works. Under a temporary expansion of the child tax credit, many households will receive monthly checks for up to $300 per child during the second half of this year.

Meanwhile, the stimulus-checks-on-autopilot concept is facing headwinds. The Congressional Budget Office, which gives out "scores" for legislative proposals based on how they'd impact the federal budget, has determined automatic stabilizer payments would have an enormous cost, according to media reports.

How to cut costs while you wait for Washington

financial struggle
@DimaBerlin via Twenty20

Until Washington gives a straighter answer on whether there will be further stimulus checks, you have ways to alleviate your financial burdens without government help.

Trim your debts. If you’ve had to rely on credit cards, personal loans or any other high-interest debt to get through the pandemic, you've likely racked up some serious balances. A single, low-interest debt consolidation loan can help you slash your interest costs and pay off your debts faster.

Consider a mortgage refi. If you own a home, 30-year mortgage rates recently dipped below 3% again and are offering a new shot at slashing your housing costs. Mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight says 14.1 million homeowners can save an average $287 a month through a refi.

Cut your insurance costs. Take a little time to shop around and compare rates on homeowners insurance when your policy comes up for renewal, because you might easily find a lower price on your coverage. Comparison shopping also can help you get a better deal on car insurance.

Put your pennies to work in the stock market. Try a low-stakes approach to earn returns in the record-breaking stock market. A wildly popular app can help you grow a diversified portfolio simply by investing "spare change" from everyday purchases.

About the Author

Nancy Sarnoff

Nancy Sarnoff

Freelance Contributor

Nancy Sarnoff is a freelance contributor with MoneyWise. Previously, she covered commercial and residential real estate for the Houston Chronicle where she also hosted Looped In, a podcast about the region’s growth, development and economy. Her work has been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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