The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked unprecedented havoc on millions of Americans' lives, and with cases continuing to surge throughout the country, it's clear that things could easily get worse before they get better. So far, the only relief that's been made widely available is the CARES Act, which was signed into law in late March. That CARES Act cost over $2 trillion, but it did two notable things:
- Allowed for a $1,200 stimulus check for eligible adults
- Boosted weekly unemployment benefits by $600 through July 31
But with the COVID-19 situation being what it is, it's clear that Americans need additional help. Many have already spent their stimulus cash on essentials over the past few months, and the $600 weekly unemployment boost is extremely close to running out.
It's for this reason that lawmakers have been talking in earnest about a second stimulus package. And this could be the week when its official details are finally hammered out.
Why the week of July 20 could be crucial
The Senate has been on recess for much of July. But with lawmakers back in action today, July 20, we can bet that a second relief package will be at the forefront of everyone's minds -- and therefore prioritized.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Senate isn't scheduled to recess again until Aug. 8, which means lawmakers have some time to agree to a stimulus deal that both Democrats and Republicans can come to terms with. The Democrat-proposed HEROES Act, which calls for a follow-up stimulus and boosted unemployment benefits through the end of the year, was met with resistance from Republicans who called it too expensive and have been pushing back on relief, citing lower unemployment levels and a reopening economy as reasons to cut off the $600 weekly unemployment boost in late July and hold off on sending additional stimulus checks.
But given the way the COVID-19 outbreak has escalated, those arguments hold less water today than they did a month ago.
With more and more states tightening restrictions, there's talk of additional stay-at-home orders that could mimic the lockdown conditions the public was subject to earlier on in the year. If those happen, non-essential businesses will have to shut back down, layoffs will escalate, and a dangerous number of Americans will struggle to make ends meet as the country grapples with a recession. As such, it's gotten pretty clear that additional relief is needed, and fast.
Furthermore, if lawmakers are going to extend the $600 weekly unemployment boost so as to avoid an interruption in benefits, they'll need to act quickly. Though the CARES Act allows that boost to be paid through July 31, most states' weekly unemployment benefits are based on a cycle that ends on a Saturday or Sunday, making this week the last one for getting that extra money unless lawmakers intervene fast.
As such, lawmakers may be really motivated to come to an agreement on a stimulus package this week. That relief package may or may not extend boosted unemployment and include a direct stimulus payment, but at this stage of the game, the public could really use some answers.