Millions of people have their fingers tightly crossed that the White House and congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will provide a fourth round of stimulus checks to help Americans make ends meet while the pandemic lingers.
This week — as the Biden administration announced plans to start sending direct payments to families with kids — the list of signatures on a petition urging Congress for broader relief has grown by the minute, and more Democratic lawmakers pressed the White House to support regular checks until the crisis ends.
If you received the recent third stimulus check, for up to $1,400, it’s most likely spent by now, or will be soon. Money can evaporate quickly when there’s rent, child care and credit card bills to pay for.
While some signs suggest the idea of more direct payments is fading fast, others indicate it's still very much in play.
Fading fast? Families are already due for more relief
Right now, the Democrats in charge at the White House and on Capitol Hill are trumpeting a temporary change in tax law that will deliver at least another $1,500 in stimulus money to many U.S. households during the second half of this year.
As part of an expanded child tax credit, eligible families will receive monthly $300 checks for each kid under age 6, and $250 for children between ages 6 and 17. The payments will go out for six months, starting on July 15.
“Nearly 40 million families with children will soon have critical financial relief that will help sustain them during the pandemic and in the days ahead," Speaker Pelosi said on Monday, after the administration confirmed the payment schedule.
The money will cover 88% of children in the U.S., according to the announcement from the IRS and the Treasury Department.
President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.8 trillion "families plan" that would, among other things, extend the expansion of the child credit through 2025. Pelosi and her fellow Democratic leaders want to make the beefed-up credit permanent.
Still in play? A petition for a fourth check keeps growing
Distribution of the last stimulus checks started two months ago, and for many households that money is long gone. Calls for more relief are growing louder from Americans in financial turmoil.
A Change.org petition pleading for Congress to provide $2,000 payments for adults and $1,000 payments for children and continue regular checks for the duration of the COVID crisis has now been signed by more than 2.2 million people. Lawmakers often respond to public pressure.
“Many people face large debts from last year for things like utilities, rent and child care,” the petition says.
In a census survey, most people who gave an answer said they spent their third stimulus checks on food, housing (rent or mortgage), utilities or paying down debt.
While some people did use their stimulus payments to invest in the high-flying stock market — a trend that has been widely reported on — others spent the money on other nonessential, but necessary, products including affordable life insurance. Sales of those policies have surged during the pandemic.
Fading fast? Washington has largely moved on
When asked recently about whether there will be more stimulus checks, Biden's spokeswoman batted the question to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"We'll see what members of Congress propose, but those are not free," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Democratic congressional leaders are now focusing on Biden’s families and infrastructure plans — and haven't said anything about a fourth stimulus check.
Given the efforts it took to push through stimulus check No. 3, a fourth round is anything but a sure thing.
Democrats hold the House and Senate by thin majorities and had to "target" the last checks away from higher-earning Americans in order to win over some of the more conservative Democratic senators, who were skeptical about the need for the third payments.
Still in play? More lawmakers want additional payments
In letters to the president, scores of Democrats have been calling for new stimulus payments since before the last COVID-19 aid bill was passed in March.
The latest letter came on Monday, with seven members of the House Ways and Means Committee telling Biden he needs to include recurring direct payments in his families plan.
The letter says the last $1,400 check was not enough to get households through the year, and that additional benefits should be tied to the country’s economic conditions and not "constantly shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions."
A fourth — and fifth — check, they argue, would keep millions of Americans out of poverty.
"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," the letter says.
What if you can't wait for Washington to decide?
If you're running low on money and could use another stimulus check, here are some ways to cut costs and maybe earn extra cash to help with the bills until the bigwigs in Washington settle on whether to provide at least one more direct payment.
High-interest credit card debt can grow fast. If you’ve been using plastic to get through the pandemic, consider clearing those balances with a debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate.
If you own a house, refinancing your loan can slash your payments. Mortgage rates are close to their record lows again, and refinancing could save you thousands over the next year. Getting quotes from at least five lenders can help you find the best rate on a new mortgage, studies have shown.
If you haven’t driven much during the pandemic, shop around for a lower price on car insurance. Some insurers are offering discounts.
Finally, you might generate a little more income by dabbling in the record-shattering stock market. A popular app allows you to build a portfolio merely by investing "spare change" from everyday purchases.