Stimulus Check Update: Changes Could Still Be Coming

by Christy Bieber | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on March 2, 2021

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Newspaper headlines about a stimulus plan and a $100 bill.

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Will the rules for who gets the $1,400 checks stay the same?

The U.S. House of Representatives has now passed a coronavirus stimulus bill based on the framework laid out by President Joe Biden shortly before he took office. The bill includes, among other things, $1,400 stimulus checks for eligible adults and dependents.

The next step is for the legislation to pass the Senate, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that the upper chamber would begin debate on the bill this week. He suggested swift action, stating "I expect a hearty debate and some late nights, but the American people sent us here with a job to do."

While it's extremely likely the Senate will pass some version of the legislation quickly, the bill it passes will inevitably look different than the one passed by the House of Representatives. And it's possible one change will relate to eligibility for stimulus checks.

Here's why the stimulus package could change in the Senate

The stimulus legislation faced no trouble passing in the House of Representatives where Democrats have a larger majority than they do in the Senate.

Legislation in the House also isn't subject to a procedural obstacle called the filibuster. In the Senate, the filibuster allows objecting senators to stop legislation in its tracks unless it can get 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. There are just 50 senators who vote with the Democrats, out of 100 total senators. And there will not be 10 Republicans to vote to advance the bill.

As a result, Democrats must use a procedural maneuver called reconciliation to pass the stimulus package. This isn't subject to a filibuster, so the bill can pass with a simple majority of 51 with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.

Legislation that passes through reconciliation must be directly related to the federal budget, though. As a result, a provision in the bill passed by the House that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour will have to be dropped.

That may not be the only change, however. Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote from among their members if they want the bill to succeed. And some conservative Democrats may propose amendments or insist upon changes before they're willing to cast their vote in favor.

Here's how the stimulus check could change

One major area of concern for conservative Democrats is that the proposed stimulus bill doesn't ensure the money goes only to those with a true need for it. As a result, the most likely modification to the stimulus checks involves stricter rules for who should receive them.

The current plan kept the same income thresholds for eligibility to receive the full check as past stimulus bills did. Individuals with incomes up to $75,000 and married joint filers with incomes up to $150,000 will receive the full amount. This stimulus bill changed the phase-out rules, though, compared to past bills. Singles with incomes above $100,000 do not get any money under the current legislation and married joint filers with incomes above $200,000 don't receive payments either.

However, some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have suggested the aid should be even more targeted. And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made clear that while the president wouldn't reduce the amount from $1,400, he might be open to more limits on who gets the money.

"He has not been willing to negotiate on the size of the checks, but there has been a targeting to ensure that it hits the Americans who need that help the most," Psaki told CNN. "That's an idea that has come up in meetings with Democrats and Republicans. And he's certainly open to hearing from their ideas."

While many progressive members of the Senate are opposed to reducing eligibility, the fact is that Democrats are eager to deliver on their campaign promises and they won't let the stimulus bill fail. If imposing stricter limits on the number of people who get payments is what it takes to get the bill over the finish line and get money into Americans bank accounts, it's very likely that will be the ultimate outcome.

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