Congress is returning from its Thanksgiving break with a huge bit of unfinished business left over from before the election: the urgent need to give the economy and households more relief from COVID-19.
U.S. cases are mushrooming, lockdowns are reappearing and layoffs are growing again. But it's been eight months since lawmakers approved direct cash payments to Americans, to beef up family budgets and encourage spending to help the overall economy.
Congressional leaders, President-elect Joe Biden (pictured), departing President Donald Trump and officials in the Trump administration have all said they support another round of those $1,200 "stimulus checks." But negotiators have been unable to make a deal on a new aid package.
A new $908 billion proposal was announced on Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators hoping to break through the stalemate.
Here's what we know right now about the chances you'll get another stimulus payment before the end of 2020.
Americans are ready for more government cash
Last week, more than 125 influential economists signed an open letter in support of new stimulus checks, which the experts said "are one of the quickest, most equitable and most effective ways to get families and the economy back on track."
Americans say additional relief would help determine whether the holiday season is gleeful or gloomy. A Franklin Templeton-Gallup survey found 16% of consumers planned to spend more on holiday gifts this year — but that jumps to 22% if the government comes through with more $1,200 relief payments.
Meanwhile, 37% said they would spend less this holiday season, but that drops to 30% if the government provides second stimulus checks.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC before Thanksgiving that Republicans want to sit down soon with members of the opposing party to draft a bill "for the people that really need it." Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly resumed their drawn-out negotiations on Tuesday.
The White House's previous proposals called for more stimulus checks. Aid measures supported by Democrats also have included new direct payments for Americans.
The two major political parties have been miles apart on the size and scope of a new rescue bill. President-elect Biden and other Democrats think the government should spend at least $2.2 trillion, while Republicans favor a price tag as low as $500 billion.
What's the possible timing for 2nd checks?
A former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama said on Sunday that the situation is getting so desperate that Democrats should settle for what they can get right now.
"So if they have to accept half a loaf, then they should take half a loaf and then let's try to get another half of a loaf," Austan Goolsby said on CNN.
A survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that close to 60% of Americans used their first stimulus checks to pay for basic expenses like groceries and utilities.
Some also invested the cash or found other, unspecified purposes for the money. Those may have included buying affordable life insurance; sales of life insurance policies have surged this year in the shadow of the pandemic.
Biden has been pushing for a quick stimulus deal to keep the COVID recession from worsening, though he has said Republicans may be more willing to compromise once Trump is out of the White House.
If a breakthrough can come quickly this week — and if it includes new direct payments — Americans could start receiving money by the end of December, based on how fast the cash started moving the first time.
But lawmakers also must pass a dozen federal spending bills by Dec. 11 to keep the government from shutting down, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already opposing the bipartisan Senate bill that was just unveiled. (But it didn't include stimulus checks anyway.)
So, a deal might have to wait for the new Congress and new administration in January — meaning no new stimulus payments before February.
What you can do in the meantime
If you can’t wait until next month or later to maybe get another infusion of cash from the government, here are a few ideas to help you find an extra $1,200 on your own.
Pull back on your spending. Get rid of any subscription services you don’t use. Cook more of your own meals and stop ordering delivery so much. And download a free price-checking browser extension that will save you money every time you shop online.
Get a grip on your debt. If you’ve been overrelying on your credit cards during the pandemic, you’re likely racking up a ton of interest. You may be able to stop adding to your debt — and make it go away sooner — by rolling your balances into a single debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate.
Cut your insurance costs. Americans have reduced their driving this year, and as a result, many car insurance companies have lowered their rates. If your insurer won’t cut you a break, it’s time to start shopping around for a better option. You might also be able to save on your homeowners insurance, by comparing quotes from multiple companies.
Refinance your mortgage. Mortgage rates are lower than ever right now, and refinancing your current loan could save you a ton of money. According to the mortgage technology and data provider Black Knight, 19.4 million U.S. homeowners could bring down their payments by an average $309 per month through a refi.