Millions of Americans have grappled with financial stress in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying recession. In March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed, and weeks later, direct $1,200 stimulus payments started hitting Americans' bank accounts.
For many Americans, that money is long since spent. Yet the latest Republican COVID-19 relief proposal doesn't include a renewed direct stimulus check. That's a harsh blow for the public to absorb.
What's happening with a COVID-19 relief package?
For stimulus checks to go out, they must be included in a larger COVID-19 relief bill that's passed into law. Lawmakers attempted to hammer out such a bill, but hit a dead-end by the time the Senate recessed in August. With lawmakers back in session, the pressure to agree on a relief bill is high. On Sept. 8, Republicans revealed a scaled-back relief package. They're now pushing for a near-term vote on it.
That package doesn't include a stimulus check, despite the fact that both Republicans and Democrats were on board with the idea earlier in the year. The Republican plan allows for a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits -- i.e., the same amount President Trump's August executive order calls for. If approved, that $300 weekly increase would remain in effect through Dec. 27, whereas the president's boost could run out sooner if Federal Emergency Management Agency funds (from which the money for boosted unemployment is being pulled) are exhausted.
The new Republican relief bill includes a revival of the Paycheck Protection Program -- a program that gave out billions in forgivable loans to help small businesses retain staff and prevent widespread layoffs. It would forgive a $10 billion Postal Service loan, as well as provide aid to schools and farmers. It also includes money for COVID-19 testing and vaccine development.
Still, a stingy unemployment boost combined with an absent stimulus check will likely be sticking points for Democrats. Though there's pressure on lawmakers to move a relief bill forward, it's unlikely that Democrats will acquiesce at this stage of the game, when an aid package is already quite overdue. Democrats have pushed to uphold the CARES Act's original $600 weekly boost. That extra $600 a week, which replaced the paychecks of many jobless workers, expired at the end of July.
In the meantime, though, Americans have to make do. President Trump signed a second executive order calling for a payroll tax deferral that's already in play, so workers may soon see larger paychecks rolling in. But those paycheck boosts in no way take the place of another stimulus check, especially since workers will pay back the holiday with lower paychecks come 2021. Stimulus payments, on the other hand, don't come with the same strings attached.