There's little question that 2020 has tested the resolve of Americans more so than any year before it. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exacted an incredible physical and financial toll, with nearly 135,000 Americans dead, as of Saturday, July 11, and more than 20 million pushed out of the labor force.
While work continues on the research front as how best to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers felt the best solution to counteract the financial hardships associated with the coronavirus was to pass the costliest relief package in history.
The CARES Act simply hasn't done enough for most Americans
On March 27, lawmakers officially passed, and President Trump signed, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. This $2.2 trillion package provided funds for hospitals to fight COVID-19, allocated $500 billion for distressed industries, portioned close to $350 billion for small business loans, and expanded the unemployment benefits program by boosting weekly payouts by $600, through July 31, 2020.
But the indelible mark left by the CARES Act is the $300 billion targeted at direct stimulus payments. According to recent figures from the Internal Revenue Service, more than 160 million Economic Impact Payments have been sent out to working Americans and senior citizens, totaling approximately $270 billion.
At maximum, these stimulus payouts could total $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for a couple filing jointly, with a parent or household also qualifying for a $500 kicker for every dependent aged 16 and under. To achieve this maximum payout, a single, head-of-household, or married tax filer simply needed a respective adjusted gross income below $75,000, $112,500, and $150,000.
Throwing a lot of money at a never-before-seen problem seemed like a great idea at the time. But in hindsight, these stimulus checks didn't do nearly enough for most Americans. A Money/Morning Consult survey in April found that almost half of the 2,200 respondents had spent their stimulus money in less than two weeks, with 74% expected to have used up all of their stimulus in four weeks, or less.
With the economic recovery pacing much slower than anticipated, and the U.S. unemployment rate still above 11%, another round of stimulus certainly appears warranted.
Expect this big change with the next stimulus deal
The question until recently had been, will a second stimulus deal take shape? The answer now appears to be a resounding yes.
In mid-May, the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which, among other things, calls for another round of direct stimulus payments to workers and seniors. While the maximum payouts remains the same -- $1,200 for an individual and $2,400 for couples -- the added payment for dependents (limit three) increases to $1,200 from $500. In other words, Democrats are on board with another round of stimulus.
However, recent commentary from key Republicans suggests that they're on board, as well. President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have all expressed interest in seeing Americans receive another round of direct stimulus payments.
But make no mistake about it -- the next stimulus deal is going to feature one very big change.
In an interview last week with CNBC, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin made clear that the next proposal would feature an adjustment to enhanced unemployment benefits. No longer are approved unemployed beneficiaries going to automatically qualify for $600 a week extra in benefits. Per Mnuchin, unemployment payouts will not total more than 100% of what a worker would usually bring home, if employed. Making enhanced unemployment benefits dynamic to a worker's typical pay will ensure that there's an incentive to get the unemployed back to work.
It's unclear if Democrats will agree to these terms, but the GOP appears to be holding firm that it has no intention of extending enhanced unemployment benefits, in their current form, beyond July 31.
Three additional sticking points for a second stimulus deal
There's a good chance that once lawmakers have an agreement in place on what to do with enhanced unemployment benefits, other disagreements will be easier to tackle. Nevertheless, there are three additional sticking points that need to be ironed out.
First, it's unclear if the qualifying income thresholds for another round of stimulus payouts could be altered. The HEROES Act that was passed in the House left the qualifying income thresholds unchanged from the CARES Act. However, recent comments from Mitch McConnell at an event in his home state may suggest that Republicans are looking to lower the income thresholds where payments phase out. This would mean fewer people would qualify for stimulus money.
Secondly, there's bound to be plenty of debate on who'll qualify as a dependent, and what dependents will add to each household or parent. Democrats want to see all dependents, regardless of age, qualify under the next stimulus deal. Meanwhile, Republicans are likely to push back on a significant expansion of dependent payouts or even the number of qualifying dependents.
Third and finally, both parties will have to decide what, if any, additional measures will be included in the next stimulus package beyond just direct payments. For instance, will we see additional funds allocated for small business loans? Could hospitals receive more capital to fight COVID-19? Are states in line to receive any financial assistance from the federal government? These are all questions that should, hopefully, be answered within the next two weeks.