When the first coronavirus stimulus check was authorized by the CARES Act and sent out by the IRS, millions of Americans used the money to pay bills, make essential purchases, or prepare for unexpected emergencies. Months later, that emergency relief is gone for many families, and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are struggling to find a compromise bill that would provide needed additional assistance. 

For those waiting for more COVID-19-related relief funds, there have been some encouraging signs suggesting another stimulus check could come soon. In particular, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the HEALS Act for Senate debate. If passed in its current form, this bill would repeat the payments made by the CARES Act while expanding benefits eligibility to more dependents.

The HEALS Act provisions on the second stimulus check were similar to those proposed in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives months ago. Although the HEROES Act provided $1,200 per dependent (up to three) while the HEALS Act offers only $500 per dependent, the two bills aren't very far apart when it comes to a second stimulus payment. 

Since a majority of lawmakers in both houses of Congress are clearly on board with authorizing another direct payment, you may be wondering what the holdup is. Well, unfortunately, there's no consensus on expanded unemployment benefits and a few other key issues in the competing bills.

A person opens an envelope to reveal several hundred dollar bills inside.

Image source: Getty Images.

A fight over unemployment is preventing the passage of a stimulus check

When the CARES Act was signed into law, millions of Americans were newly unemployed. The coronavirus relief legislation aimed to take care of those left jobless by the great lockdown by providing an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits. 

The additional money was made available only through July 31, though. Those still without jobs have been left with unemployment benefits that may be as low as a third of their pre-pandemic income.

Democrats want to extend the extra $600 per week unemployment benefit. In fact, the HEROES Act would've made the additional money available until Jan. 31, 2021. However, many Republicans have expressed serious reservations extending the added benefit that long, noting that with many workers making more on unemployment than they did at their jobs, such a large bonus could deter people from going back to work.

As introduced, the HEALS Act would authorize an extra $200 per week in unemployment benefits. Reports indicate the GOP is now on board with providing as much as $400 in extra weekly benefits through Dec. 15. However, Democratic leadership is holding firm on the $600 rate. 

There are a few other issues still in dispute as well, including the total price tag for the relief bill, whether to provide additional financial assistance to states, and whether to include liability protection for businesses concerned about lawsuits related to COVID-19. 

But the unemployment benefit question is a major obstacle. Expanded benefits carry a high price tag and reflect fundamental philosophical differences between lawmakers on either side of the aisle. Sadly, with both Democrats and Republicans seemingly digging in their heels, finding consensus on how to provide additional relief for those left jobless will likely be one of the trickier aspects of passing another stimulus bill. 

What should you do while waiting for your stimulus check?

If you're waiting for that second stimulus check before making financial moves like saving for emergencies or covering your bills, change your thinking. You can't count on these politicians to come through for you. Even if they do, it could be weeks before you see your money. 

Instead of hoping for help, look into potential solutions available now. This could mean reaching out to your creditors to work out a payment plan if you're struggling or checking with your state's various government programs (including the Department of Health or Social Services) to see what sources of local assistance are being offered.

If you're in a good financial position right now, start saving and investing to shore up your finances, as it's very possible the 2020 recession could be a long one -- especially if lawmakers don't come through soon with a bill that stimulates economic spending during these troubled times.