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Stimulus Check Update: Talks Reopen for Fourth Stimulus Check

The Ascent logo The Ascent 1/7/2022 Dana George
A small business owner wearing a mask and hanging an Open sign on the front door of her shop. © Getty Images A small business owner wearing a mask and hanging an Open sign on the front door of her shop.

We've been writing for months that there's little chance of a fourth check hitting bank accounts anytime soon. The stock market is up, more people are back to work (or starting their own businesses), and most Republicans are dead set against more assistance to the American people.

Just as we closed the door on the possibility of a fourth check, lawmakers cracked it back open -- at least a little. When Jen Psaki, White House spokeswoman, was asked earlier this week about the possibility of more stimulus funds, she said, "We're in constant conversations."

And that was it. Psaki's comment was just enough to make us wonder three things:

  1. Who is the White House "in constant conversations" with regarding more stimulus money?
  2. Biden's economy seems to be on solid ground. Why the push for more stimulus funds?
  3. Is there talk of another check going out to all Americans under a certain income threshold?

Here, we attempt to answer these three questions.

Who's talking?

Please make no mistake; most Republican lawmakers are resolute in their determination to block additional aid. Still, in what may be a hopeful sign to some, a small bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans have quietly met for weeks, hoping to come up with a targeted relief package to meet the needs of small businesses, like restaurants, gyms, and live entertainment venues.

In mid-December, Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker put together a $68 billion proposal that would include a combination of new spending and repurposing unused cash authorized under previous financial aid packages. If passed, funds would be directed to the small businesses still feeling the impact of the pandemic.

In addition, Democrats continue to push hard to pass President Biden's Build Back Better Act (BBBA). BBBA would reauthorize the expanded advance Child Tax Credit that expired in December, leaving millions of families unsure if they'll ever see another monthly Child Tax Credit check.

A major obstacle

Standing directly in the way of the BBBA and the expanded Child Tax Credit is Democrat Joe Manchin of Virginia. Manchin has, at various times, blamed his reluctance to pass BBBA on different issues, including inflation, the national deficit, and who would receive more money if monthly Child Tax Credit payments were to resume.

Even though the expanded Child Tax Credit lifted millions of U.S. children out of poverty, and 346,000 children in West Virginia have benefited from the program, Manchin says he can't support an expansion of the Child Tax Credit because he's afraid parents will spend the money on illegal drugs.

According to the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, 50,000 children in Manchin's home state (the second poorest in the U.S.) are at risk of slipping into poverty or deeper into poverty if Manchin lines up with Republicans to vote against BBBA.

What's the issue?

In a word: omicron. As we move into the third year of the pandemic, coronavirus cases have surged to record highs in the U.S., with hospitals overrun with new patients.

Life looked like it may get back to normal for a while there. Vaccines and boosters were available, new treatments were on the way, and the economy was picking up steam. But here we are in January, with more than 832,000 Americans dead and the number climbing by the day. Nearly 4 out of 10 eligible Americans are not fully vaccinated, and businesses are paying the economic price of sick and hospitalized employees and customers.

Gains made are at risk of disappearing, and businesses that look as though they might survive are facing another wave of adversity. While it's true that omicron may not present with the same symptoms as COVID-19 or the delta variant, doctors warn that it is far more transmissible and likely to reach a greater number of people.

There is little that can be done to protect the economy from omicron, particularly if the number of new cases continues to grow at the current rate and new pandemic restrictions and shutdowns are introduced.

Who's likely to receive future funds?

It appears that future stimulus payments will be targeted at small business owners. Whether it's a daycare that shuts down due to coronavirus cases or a gift store with too few customers, these are the folks most likely to receive another round of funds.

Whether another round of stimulus payments is made will depend on what happens with the virus. Will it continue to infect, or will herd immunity be reached? Will further stimulus payments depend on new spending, or is there enough left in unused cash authorized under earlier financial aid packages to eke out the funds required to keep small businesses afloat?

Enough is up in the air for us to honestly say we're not sure where these new bipartisan talks will lead. We know that the first three rounds of stimulus checks were sent when there was a dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. The first was in April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. The second was in January 2021, when the second wave of cases hit U.S. shores hard. And the last check was in March 2021, as cases continued to rise, but vaccines were not yet widely available.

For now, the best we can do is leave the door cracked and keep an eye on Washington D.C. to see what happens.

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