The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided coronavirus stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child. Most American families who are eligible for COVID-19 payments received these checks already, or will soon. And plans for a second round of direct payments are underway.
One proposal for more coronavirus money that's already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the HEROES Act, would increase the amount of the second check for millions of families.
But while Social Security beneficiaries aren't left out of the second round of checks, most retirees won't benefit from the proposed increase to the second COVID-19 payment. Here's why.
The HEROES Act provides extra money for dependents
The HEROES Act increases the amount of money most American families will receive by providing more money for dependents and expanding who qualifies as a dependent.
While the CARES Act provided a $500 payment per qualifying dependent, the HEROES Act provides $1,200 instead. This more than doubles the value of having a dependent.
The HEROES Act also expands who counts as a dependent. Only child dependents under 17 qualified for the extra money in the original stimulus check. But any dependent, including adult dependents, counts for the extra $1,200 under the new proposal. The number of dependents is capped at three, but this still means a married couple with three kids could get a payment of $6,000 in the second round of checks while they'd have received just $3,900 in COVID-19 money the first time.
This is a huge increase for anyone with a dependent. But, most Social Security retirees don't have dependents who'd qualify them for it. Social Security retirement benefits can't be claimed until at least age 62, which means most beneficiaries no longer have young children or college-age kids they still claim as dependents. And while around 5.7 million children under the age of 18 live in grandparent-headed households nationwide , the number of retirees who could potentially claim grandchildren as dependents make up a very small portion of the 45 million seniors receiving Social Security retirement benefits.
For Social Security beneficiaries with no dependents, the HEROES Act would result in checks of the same amount as the first time around. And while getting $1,200 per individual is better than nothing, the reality is that this money didn't go very far to help American families the first time and likely won't do much to help the second time either.
Do Social Security beneficiaries need more stimulus money the second time around?
There's certainly an argument to be made that families with dependents have a greater need for an expanded stimulus payment in round two than retirees do. After all, Social Security beneficiaries have a source of fixed income, while most younger families don't.
But many retirees are still facing financial hardship due to the coronavirus. Stock market volatility may have led to losses in investment accounts, reducing the amount that can be safely withdrawn. And COVID-19 may reduce or eliminate Social Security's cost of living increase next year and also accelerate the depletion of the Social Security trust fund. This could necessitate a benefits cut of as much as 24% if changes aren't made to shore up the program's finances.
If the next coronavirus relief bill increases the size of COVID-19 stimulus checks for some Americans because payments were too small the first time, lawmakers should seriously consider taking an approach to boosting coronavirus money that doesn't leave Social Security retirement beneficiaries with the same inadequate payment this time around.