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Stimulus Check Update: What Comes Next for $1400 Direct Payments, Extra Unemployment Benefits

The Motley Fool logo The Motley Fool 3/3/2021 Angelica Leicht
calendar: Stimulus Check Update: What Comes Next for $1400 Direct Payments, Extra Unemployment Benefits © Provided by The Motley Fool Stimulus Check Update: What Comes Next for $1400 Direct Payments, Extra Unemployment Benefits calendar: $100 bills, a stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury, and American flags surround a COVID-19 vial. © Getty Images $100 bills, a stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury, and American flags surround a COVID-19 vial.

It appears that the nation may finally be making headway in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines are rolling out to more and more Americans, and numbers have plateaued, at least temporarily. While there are still plenty of hurdles ahead to overcome this global pandemic, it does appear there could be light at the end of this year-long tunnel.

That said, the road to full recovery is going to be a long one. Millions of Americans are still struggling to recover from the financial hit they sustained from the pandemic. Businesses have shuttered, jobs have been furloughed or eliminated, and cash-strapped Americans are having a tough time making ends meet. The third stimulus payment, which rolled out in late 2020 and early 2021, helped make a dent in empty bank accounts across the nation, but with the sustained damage from the pandemic, it may not have been enough.

Most Americans are still counting on the proposed stimulus check to help get by until the economy recovers. Luckily, those $1,400 direct payments, which have been proposed as part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, are also gaining traction. Here's what's up next for the proposed checks and the other benefits in the package.

The big debate... and the potential holdups

If you're counting on a $1,400 stimulus check to help you stretch your dollars further, there could be good news on the horizon. Biden's stimulus package cleared the first of the major hurdles last week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the proposed COVID-19 stimulus bill.

That isn't the only legal barrier the bill will have to cross to be pushed through, though. The COVID-19 stimulus plan still has to make it through the Senate before it can be signed into law by the president. The good news? That is going to happen sooner rather than later.

The bill is expected to hit the floor of the Senate for debate today. The package may not see a swift trajectory through the upper chamber, though. Lawmakers are expecting a "hearty debate" over the proposed package, which includes, among other things, the highly anticipated $1,400 stimulus checks for eligible adults and dependents. It also includes expanded federal unemployment benefits and other financial lifelines for struggling Americans.

"I expect a hearty debate and some late nights, but the American people sent us here with a job to do," Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday.

The Senate process that is being used to pass the bill caps the debate at just 20 hours in total, but there are loopholes that allow it to take much longer to get through the upper chamber. The 20-hour debate process is followed by a period in which senators can introduce amendments to the legislation.

They cannot, however, debate the proposed amendments before the votes on these -- known as a "vote-a-rama" -- take place.

If a slew of proposed amendments were to be proposed, it could force lawmakers to hold votes on the amendments proposed to the package -- which could include controversial or frustratingly-partisan issues that prolong the process of the Senate passing the stimulus package.

So, when will the final vote happen?

It really all depends on the traction the bill has in the Senate. If the debates begin today in the upper chamber, it could lead to a setup for passing the bill through shortly after. According to numerous lawmakers, it's extremely likely that the bill will be voted on late this week or early next week -- which means that checks could be coming sooner rather than later.

Schumer addressed the upcoming debate on Tuesday, stating that Democrats are "on track" to pass the bill by March 14. Schumer and a number of other lawmakers have pushed for the passage of the bill before the March 14 deadline, which is when the current federal boost to unemployment benefits is set to expire.

If passed, House leaders are pushing to take up the bill for a final vote as soon as Monday. Should that happen, the bill, the $1,400 direct payment checks, and the other proposed benefits, like monthly tax credits for parents of eligible children, and expanded unemployment benefits, could become law by as early as next week.

What are the potential holdups?

There is no guarantee that a vote will happen early next week. While it's likely that we'll see some traction over the next few days, it may not pan out the way Democratic leaders hope.

Many Republican lawmakers have already pushed back on parts of the stimulus package, including the controversial $15 federal minimum wage hike. The federal minimum wage increase is now unlikely to stay on the table as part of the debates over the stimulus package.

There have also been numerous calls from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to make the stimulus payments more "targeted" to Americans in need. These stricter rules would mean that fewer Americans would be eligible for this round of stimulus payments were those changes to come to fruition during debates.

The main issue is that the current proposed stimulus package keeps the income thresholds for eligibility at the same threshold as the other stimulus packages that were passed. Individuals with incomes up to $75,000 and married joint filers with incomes up to $150,000 will receive the full amount of the direct payment. Under the current proposed guidelines, a family of four meeting all of the eligibility requirements could receive up to $5,600.

Where this stimulus bill differs is the hard phase out of single Americans and couples making higher wages. The stimulus payment will phase out between $75,000 and $100,000 in AGI for individuals and between $150,00 and $200,000 for couples filing jointly.

If the bill passes the Senate this week and is signed into law, those new phase-out rules would mean that single Americans with incomes above $100,000 would not get any direct payment stimulus money from this package. Married joint filers with incomes above $200,000 also would not receive any direct stimulus payments as part of this package.

There is always a chance that other changes will happen during the Senate debate as well. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

But, while it looks like the direct payment phase outs and cutoffs are up for debate, Biden isn't willing to budge on the size of the checks that are being proposed as part of the package.

"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," White House Press Secretary Jen 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."

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