Stimulus Check Update: A Fourth Stimulus Check? Separating Fact From Fiction

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Until we know for sure that something is true, it's only a guess.

Here's what we know: As of today, more than 159 million third stimulus checks have been disbursed. That represents $376 billion in direct payments to Americans. As some recipients pay bills with their funds and others tuck the money into an emergency savings account, the buzz surrounding a fourth check grows.

While speculation regarding a fourth check may seem harmless, what happens next is vital to those desperately in need of assistance. Here, we seek to separate what we know to be accurate from speculation, and attempt to offer a realistic view of where the issue stands.

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What we know

After a year of medical and financial trauma, these are the facts as we understand them today:

  • As of March 2021, nearly 30% of American families cannot cover household expenses, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
  • The most pressing financial issues involve housing instability and food insecurity for many Americans, says an Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center representative.
  • A fourth stimulus check could help lift 7.3 million people out of poverty.
  • Census data collected from the nonprofit Economic Security Project showed that most people used their direct stimulus payments to pay for basic needs, including groceries and other bills. Although some people saved or invested their direct stimulus payments last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that most used their payments to cover everyday living expenses.
  • After years of divisive partisanship, President Joe Biden managed to enjoy bipartisan public support for the American Rescue Plan, including the third round of direct payments.
  • Two months before the American Rescue Plan was passed and signed into law, 53 House Democrats sent a letter to the Oval Office asking Biden to consider the value of recurring stimulus payments until the economy has time to rebound.
  • 21 U.S. senators signed a letter to the president, explaining that 6 out of 10 Americans expect their $1,400 stimulus check to be spent in less than three months. In response, senators asked Biden to build recurring relief payments into his Build Back Better infrastructure package.

Speculation vs. reality

All we know for sure is what has already occurred. Most current predictions regarding a fourth stimulus check are based on a combination of wishful thinking and conjecture -- neither of which is fair to those in need of further stimulus assistance. Here, we offer a realistic view of what it's going to take to get another stimulus payment into the bank accounts of everyday Americans.

  • The fact that Democratic members of the House and Senate openly support additional direct stimulus payments gives rise to the hope that other lawmakers will sign on. While it's optimistic to speculate that Democrats in Congress will pass the Build Back Better Plan with a simple majority, their ability to get a simple majority is not a foregone conclusion. Realistically, Democrats will have to keep everyone in their party on board, meaning they can't afford to lose even one Democratic senator (unless they can manage to pick up a Republican).
  • Biden has been in office less than four months. In that time, the $2.9 billion American Rescue Plan passed by the thinnest of margins. Now, with another $3 billion plan on the table, emotions are high, and lawmakers are unlikely to join hands in bipartisan unity. The Republican pushback on Biden's wish to raise the corporate tax rate to 28% represents an obstacle that will be tough to overcome. Realistically, members of both parties are going to have to be willing to compromise if there's any hope of passing a Build Back Better Plan that includes another stimulus payment.
  • A Pew Research poll found that 70% of Americans supported the American Rescue Plan. Americans support the Build Back Better Plan by a margin of 47 points (69% in support, 22% oppose). Normally, 69% support would represent a slam dunk. Realistically, though, the partisan divide is not going anywhere and the fact that the American Rescue Plan did not receive a single Republican vote illustrates the challenge that lies ahead.
  • As pressure on Biden to fold another stimulus payment into the Build Back Better Plan builds, it is unclear how committed he is to the idea. Neither the president nor his press secretary, Jen Psaki, has directly addressed the issue. Realistically, Biden will need to prioritize another round of stimulus payments if there's any hope of a fourth check seeing the light of day.

You are likely to hear and read dozens of stories about a potential fourth stimulus check over the next few weeks. If you're underwater financially, you may be counting on another round. Our goal is not to discourage you. Instead, we hope to help you prepare in case another stimulus check does not come to fruition.

If you're one of the millions struggling with the financial fallout of COVID-19, check out our coronavirus resource page to stay up to date on news and available aid as the pandemic continues to unfold.

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