Stimulus Check Update: Senate Could Vote on Relief Bill This Weekend

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Lawmakers are getting closer to sending relief out to the public.

The massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Americans are widely anticipating has reached the Senate floor. The measure is loaded with provisions designed to help the public. Notably, the bill includes:

  • A third round of stimulus checks, this time worth $1,400 apiece
  • Enhanced and extended unemployment benefits -- specifically, a $400 weekly boost through late August
  • A more generous Child Tax Credit
  • Rental assistance
  • Expanded food benefits, including an extension of the P-EBT program, which replaces meals for students who aren't getting them at school
  • Small business aid, including a special grant program for restaurants, which have been notably hard hit in the course of the pandemic
  • Expanded health insurance subsidies

One feature that didn't make it into the bill is a minimum wage hike. President Joe Biden had initially pushed for a provision that would gradually raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $15 by 2025, but a Senate parliamentarian ruled that because the relief bill is being moved forward via a process known as budget reconciliation, a minimum wage increase isn't eligible to be included in the current round of legislation.

Republicans aren't happy

Democratic lawmakers need a simple majority to get their bill passed into law, which means it can move forward without Republican support. But many Republican lawmakers are displeased with the bill and some may attempt to make the process of passing it as unpleasant as possible. Case in point -- Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin forced Senate clerks to read the entire bill out loud, a process that began Thursday afternoon and was expected to take 10 hours all in.

The purpose of that, however, wasn't necessarily just theatrics -- many Republican lawmakers strongly believe that the bill is far too all-encompassing, and they fear that spending heavily on extra relief will lead to a cash crunch down the line. Those opposed to the bill have pointed to a declining unemployment rate as a reason to consider narrowing the scope of any incoming aid, though it's worth noting that the jobless rate is still much higher than it was before the pandemic began.

Democrats, meanwhile, have already narrowed the scope of the relief package since it was initially presented, to the point where an estimated 12 million Americans will no longer be eligible for a stimulus check of any sort. This week, Biden agreed to lower the thresholds at which stimulus payments are cut off completely, and they currently sit at:

  • $80,000 for individuals
  • $120,000 for heads of household
  • $160,000 for married couples

Lawmakers are hoping to vote on the new relief bill over the weekend, and if that happens, stimulus checks could easily arrive in Americans' bank accounts by mid-March. While the president wants to deliver aid as quickly as possible, there's also a specific clock lawmakers are working against -- the fact that extended unemployment benefits under the last relief bill are set to expire by March 14. The only way to avoid a gap in payments for those getting those benefits is to sign a new relief bill in time to allow for continuity, which is why Democratic lawmakers are doing everything they can to avoid delays.

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