SECOND ROUND OF STIMULUS CHECKS

It seems everyone in America thinks a second stimulus check for consumers still reeling from the effects of COVID-19 is needed to re-ignite the U.S. economy.

Everyone except the U.S. Senate, specifically Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

While two polls, one conducted by WalletHub and another by CNBC/Change Research, showed nearly nine out of 10 Americas are in favor of a another stimulus check, McConnell wants more time to think about it.

The Senator from Kentucky has been preaching a wait-and-see approach since passing the $2.4 trillion CARES Act March 27. He doesn’t seem anxious to throw more money at a U.S. economy still staggering and in desperate need of financial help for coronavirus.

In no particular order, McConnell is worried that:

  • Another relief package would add trillions more to the federal deficit already skyrocketing past $25 trillion
  • Businesses and schools will be bombarded lawsuits related to the coronavirus
  • Unemployed workers will continue taking advantage of government handouts and resist seeking employment
  • A rush to do something will cause more problems than it solves

Will There Be a Second Round of Stimulus Checks?

Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate have voiced optimism that another relief package will get serious debate during the month of June and might even include some discussion of the $3 trillion HEROES Act that recently passed in the House of Representatives.

The HEROES ACT called for another $1,200 stimulus check for those making less than $75,000 ($2,400 for couples filing jointly), plus $1,200 each for up to three children.

During a radio interview in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell called the HEROES Act “not a serious piece of legislation” and said, “if there is another bill, it will originate in the Senate.”

His peers, no doubt hearing the financial screams of their constituents, will want to respond by talking seriously about the proposal that would put as much as $6,000 into a family budget.

At the very least, the popularity of the first stimulus check almost guarantees that some form of direct financial aid will be coming this summer.

When Might There Be a Second Stimulus Check?

The Senate is in session until July 3, when they will go on a two-week break surrounding the July Fourth holiday. That gives them more than a month to offer new ideas or extract worthy ones from the HEROES Act.

The first relief bill, the $2.1 trillion CARES Act, took only 10 days to draw up, debate and pass. Expecting that kind of action in Round Two would be considered wildly optimistic.

McConnell is adamant that the Senate will draw up the next relief bill, but didn’t say what it would look like or whether a second round of stimulus checks would be part of it. His focus – and likely most potent bargaining chip – is legislation that includes liability protection for businesses and schools.

“Part of getting back to normal is to not let there be a second epidemic in the wake of the pandemic, and the epidemic would be an epidemic of litigation,” McConnell said. “Businesses and schools are not going to open if they’re afraid of being sued. We need to deal with that, or we have no chance of getting back to normal.”

McConnell also is intent on helping states provide unemployment benefits, though he’s opposed to extending the $600 a week bonus that the CARES Act adds to state unemployment checks. That provision expires at the end of July, and may not be resuscitated.

“A lot of folks are getting paid more not to work than to work and that is counterproductive,” he said. “The goal here is to get people back to work. Structuring it the same way again would be a mistake.”

What Is America Saying about Stimulus Checks?

Whenever a new “normal” returns, most Americans want it to include a second stimulus check. The WalletHub poll conducted in late April, showed 84% of Americans want a second wave of stimulus checks. The poll also showed 160 million Americans were three months away from running out of money, meaning time is of the essence.

The CNBC/Change Research poll involved people in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina. It was conducted the first week in May and 94% of respondents said it’s important that people who have lost jobs or wages receive relief. Another 74% of respondents support recurring direct payments to individuals until the pandemic ends.

Whether they get it – and how much it’s worth – will depend on how urgently McConnell steers legislation through the Senate. The Majority Leader has made it clear he’s concerned about how the relief packages are impacting the federal deficit, which has flown past $25 trillion.

The CARES Act helped add another $737 billion to this year’s deficit in April, by far the largest monthly shortfall in the 40 years data has been collected.

“We now have a national debt that is the size of our economy for the first time since World War II,” McConnell said. “We’ve got to be aware here of what we’re doing to the long-term future of our country with this level of debt.

“That’s why I think this next bill should be carefully crafted after we begin to see the impact of reopening again.”

Details on the HEROES Act

While McConnell completely dismisses the HEROES Act, there are going to be parts of it that Democrats will push to keep. It is loaded with huge coronavirus cash relief to seemingly every sector of American life. Among the things it provides:

  • Almost $875 billion for state and local governments
  • $200 billion in hazard pay for some essential workers
  • $850 million for child and family care for essential workers
  • $75 billion to expand COVID-19 testing and contact tracing
  • $100 billion for rental assistance for low-income households
  • $75 billion to help homeowners pay their mortgages, property taxes or utilities
  • $25 billion to help the Postal Service survive a steep drop off in revenue.

“Some of the members say let’s take a pause,” Pelosi said on the House floor. “Do you think this virus is taking a pause? Do you think that the rent takes a pause? Do you think that putting food on the table – or the hunger that comes if you can’t – takes a pause?”

The proposed second stimulus payment in the HEROES Act is larger than the first stimulus check under the CARES Act.

But it is a one-time payment, and therefore is far less generous that several other Democratic proposals by Senator Bernie Sanders and members of the progressive caucus. They wanted payments of $2,000 and even $10,000 every week, depending on family size, for the duration of the pandemic. In fact, one of the proposals requested payments for a year after the pandemic.

Those bills never came up for a vote, causing some progressive backlash against Pelosi. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal proposed a bill in April that would have ensured workers receive 100% of their salaries up to $100,000 and provided businesses with funding to cover “essential” expenses such as rent. She was the only progressive member to vote against Pelosi’s bill, saying it didn’t go far enough.

Still, it’s a big, first step. Here’s a closer look at the key points:

  • Stimulus payment – $1,200 for individuals and dependents (Up to $6,000 for families)
  • Payment duration – One-time payment
  • Eligibility – Eligibility would be based on the same income limits as the CARES Act ($75,000 for single filers; $150,000 for married couples filing jointly; $112,500 for heads of households.
  • Payment distribution – Same as the CARES Act. Payments would be distributed through direct deposit or paper check.
  • Cost – $3 trillion.
  • Who introduced the bill? – House Democrats
  • Will it pass? – No, not in its current form. But it puts the ball in the Republicans court, the first step in a massive, trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill that likely will pass sometime this summer, and include a second stimulus check.