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Fourth stimulus check: Biden could make new direct payments automatic

MoneyWise logo MoneyWise 7/13/2021 Nancy Sarnoff
a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Fourth stimulus check: Biden could it automatic © Alex Edelman / UPI / Shutterstock Fourth stimulus check: Biden could it automatic

As Democrats in Congress pressure their leaders and the White House to deliver a fourth round of stimulus checks, President Joe Biden is being urged to go even further to make sure struggling Americans continue to get aid, for as long as they need it.

Lawmakers, with the support of millions of Americans, are proposing that future relief be immediate, and tied closely to the economy.

New rounds of "stimmies" would kick in automatically if certain economic triggers are hit. Supporters of this idea say families who need help getting through the remainder of the pandemic — or through the next big crisis — would be better able to afford food and housing, cover other basic bills and pay down debt.

Putting stimulus checks on autopilot

text: @RLTheis / Twenty20 Person opens an IRS envelope containing a stimulus check. © Provided by MoneyWise @RLTheis / Twenty20 Person opens an IRS envelope containing a stimulus check.

Democrats have been pushing for new relief payments that would be "automatic stabilizers" — they'd be distributed without any vote from Congress, to offer speedy support for the economy and U.S. households.

The lawmakers say additional direct aid would keep more Americans out of poverty, and provide them with certainty that relief is coming whenever the economy shows signs of trouble.

"Families and workers shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ll have enough money to pay for essentials in the months ahead as the country continues to fight a global pandemic and recession," according to a recent letter addressed to Biden and signed by seven Democrats on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Government surveys have found many people spent their relief money on essential food and housing costs, though popular uses also included saving, investing and spending on other items. Affordable life insurance may be one of those; demand for policies has seen a sharp increase in the wake of the pandemic.

Over 80 members of Congress have put themselves on record in support of at least one more stimulus check.

How stabilizer stimmies would be triggered

a close up of a sign: pixinoo / Shutterstock Unemployment remains high in the aftermath of COVID closures. © Provided by MoneyWise pixinoo / Shutterstock Unemployment remains high in the aftermath of COVID closures.

The trigger to release an automatic round of direct payments could be an economic indicator, like the unemployment rate. If it rose above a certain line, stimulus checks would go out. Once it went back below that level, the payments would stop.

Lawmakers also want to see beefed-up unemployment benefits paid out automatically, based on economic conditions. Extra federal jobless benefits, of $300 per week, are set to expire on Labor Day.

The unemployment rate remains elevated and rose slightly in June. And last week, the government reported a surprising increase in new sign-ups for jobless benefits.

Struggling Americans are pleading for additional relief. About 2.6 million individuals have signed an online petition calling for $2,000 checks for adults and $1,000 for children to be delivered regularly "for the duration of the crisis."

"Congress needs to make recurring checks automatic if certain triggers are met," the petition says. "No more waiting around for our government to send the help we need."

What might Biden do?

Jen Psaki smiling for the camera: Shutterstock White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a briefing. © Provided by MoneyWise Shutterstock White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a briefing.

The president hasn't addressed the automatic stabilizers proposal — in fact, he hasn't even said whether he'd support a fourth stimulus check. But in early June, his spokeswoman said Biden was "open" to another payment.

"He's happy to hear from a range of ideas on what would be most effective and what’s most important to the economy moving forward," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a White House news briefing.

But she added that the president already had offered the proposals he believed would do the most good. Those include trillion-dollar spending packages to fix America's crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and to provide more benefits to U.S. families.

The White House and Democrats in Congress have preferred to put a spotlight on another kind of stimulus payments that starts this week. Under a temporary expansion of the child tax credit, many households will receive monthly checks for up to $300 per child during the second half of this year.

Meanwhile, the stimulus-checks-on-autopilot concept is facing headwinds. The Congressional Budget Office, which gives out "scores" for legislative proposals based on how they'd impact the federal budget, has determined automatic stabilizer payments would have an enormous cost, according to media reports.

Cut costs while you wait for Washington

a person sitting at a table using a laptop: @DimaBerlin / Twenty20 You might relieve some financial pressures on your own. © Provided by MoneyWise @DimaBerlin / Twenty20 You might relieve some financial pressures on your own.

Until Washington gives a straighter answer on whether there will be further stimulus checks, you have ways to alleviate your financial burdens without government help.

Trim your debts. If you’ve had to rely on credit cards, personal loans or any other high-interest debt to get through the pandemic, you've likely racked up some serious balances. A single, low-interest debt consolidation loan can help you slash your interest costs and pay off your debts faster.

Consider a mortgage refi. If you own a home, 30-year mortgage rates recently dipped below 3% again and are offering a new shot at slashing your housing costs. Mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight has said 14.1 million homeowners could save an average $287 a month through a refi at today's low rates.

Cut your insurance costs. Take a little time to shop around and compare rates on homeowners insurance when your policy comes up for renewal, because you might easily find a lower price on your coverage. Comparison shopping also can help you get a better deal on car insurance.

Put your pennies to work in the stock market. Try a low-stakes approach to earn returns in the record-breaking stock market. A wildly popular app can help you grow a diversified portfolio simply by investing "spare change" from everyday purchases.

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