Lawmakers: Families need more stimulus checks

Sad family  with documents at table in home
Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock

Fifty Democratic U.S. representatives and 11 members of the U.S. Senate have signed letters urging the Biden administration to support regular stimulus checks to help Americans cover essential needs as long as the coronavirus threat endures.

“One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis,” says the letter from the House Democrats. It does't suggest a dollar amount for recurring payments, but Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted in January that the government should provide $2,000 per month to carry people through the pandemic.

In their letter, the senators — including Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders — write that the crisis is far from over, "and families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads."

Many Americans have used their aid money for groceries, rent and other basic needs, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study based on how last year's first, $1,200 stimulus checks were spent.

The cash also has gone toward saving, investing and other expenses, the BLS found. Some consumers likely went shopping for affordable life insurance, because demand for those policies has surged amid the pandemic.

Friends and foes of additional checks

Some experts agree that the government must do more. "There will likely need to be further stimulus spending in the hundreds of billion dollars," says Stanley Litow, a professor at Columbia and Duke, in a column for Barron's.

And Peter Earle, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research, tells CNBC: "More direct stimulus payments are certainly possible."

The idea of additional, maybe even monthly, stimulus checks may attract fans in high places. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell last week told members of Congress "the recovery is far from complete," and indicated that stimulus checks and other aid weren't likely to drive up inflation.

CEOs of retail chains might like to see more government cash going to consumers. Retail sales surged in January after Round 2 of the checks went out, and Macy's said it was expecting a big sales boost from the third stimulus checks.

But further checks would have no shortage of detractors. Republicans opposed the third checks as expensive and unnecessary, and moderate Democrats may feel that way about any further payments. They demanded changes for the third round, to "target" the stimulus checks toward the neediest Americans.

A possible hurdle to new stimulus checks

Capitol building Washington DC sunlight day USA US congress
lunamarina / Shutterstock

Beyond the likely opposition, there's a more convoluted issue that could stand in the way of a fourth round of stimulus checks.

The $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package President Biden signed March 11 was approved using an arcane budget process that allowed the Democrats who control Congress to pass the legislation with simple majorities. Typically, bills need a 60-vote supermajority to make it through the Senate, because of the "filibuster rule."

Biden and the Democrats can use the streamlined, go-it-alone approach just one more time in 2020, and they'd have to wait until the next fiscal year starts on Oct. 1 to do that.

In the coming week, Biden plans to unveil a $3 trillion infrastructure plan that will include money for roads and bridges, plus new tax increases. So far, there's been no indication that the package will include a fourth stimulus check.

What if you expect you'll need more relief?

Mother and child wearing surgical face mask buying fruit in supermarket
FamVeld / Shutterstock

If you’re anxiously waiting for your third stimulus check — or it's already gone — and you're worrying about how you'll get by later in the year, you have some options to find more cash.

  • Cut costly interest charges. Have you been leaning hard on your credit cards through the pandemic, and piling up interest? Make your debt more manageable — and pay it off more quickly — by folding your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.

  • Make savings your policy. Car insurance companies have been doling out discounts for drivers who have been using their cars less because of COVID. If yours won’t offer savings, shop around for a better deal. And while you’re at it, comparing rates on homeowners insurance could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

  • Refinance your mortgage (if you've got one) and slash your payments. Mortgage rates remain historically low, and refinancing your existing home loan could reap big savings. The mortgage technology and data provider Black Knight says 11.1 million mortgage holders are still sitting on loans worth refinancing — for average savings of $277 a month.

  • Trim your budget and "make your own" stimulus check. Using a few creative ways to cut back, you might come up with the equivalent of a monthly stimulus check. Contact your cellphone provider and switch to a cheaper option. Have a hobby or special talent? Turn it into a side hustle to bring in extra income. And, download a free browser extension that will automatically scour for better prices and coupons whenever you shop online.

About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman

Editor-in-Chief

Doug Whiteman is the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNBC.com and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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