Both houses of Congress are back in session this week for the first time since May 20, meaning some movement is possible on the big question for many Americans: Will there be a fourth pandemic stimulus check?
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers get back to work after their Memorial Day recess, a few new developments are likely to cause the discussion of a fourth check to intensify. Those include fresh comments from the White House and new research into the impacts of the last two direct payments.
Meanwhile, each week more people join the crusade for additional relief, to help households afford food and housing, cover other basic bills and pay down debt amid the financial fallout from COVID.
Study provides new fuel for the debate
Already, 80-plus members of Congress have put themselves out there in support of a fourth stimulus check, maybe more. Most recently, seven Democrats on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee wrote President Joe Biden that an additional two stimulus checks would keep 12 million more people out of poverty.
Democrats who want to provide more aid have new ammunition for their fight: A study of census survey data, done by the University of Michigan, shows the last two rounds of federal assistance helped keep Americans fed, housed and mentally healthy.
From January through April, households with children reporting food shortages, financial instability and depression dropped by between 20% and 42%, the researchers found.
Other research, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has found that about 13% of stimulus cash is now used for essential spending, including groceries and housing. But more of it is being devoted toward debt, put into savings, or used to invest in the high-flying stock market.
White House gives hope to backers of fourth 'stimmy'
It's not just policymakers and academics who see value in more "stimmies." A Change.org petition calling for $2,000 checks for adults and $1,000 for children has collected close to 2.34 million signatures.
While Congress was away on recess, White House press secretary Jen Psaki kept hopes alive for a fourth stimulus check by saying President Biden would be "open" to the idea.
"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," Psaki told reporters during a White House press briefing.
But Biden's spokeswoman also said the president has already proposed the things he believes are most crucial right now — namely his plans to spend trillions to fix America's woeful roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and to provide more benefits to U.S. families.
What Congress might do about a fourth check
Congress' full return from its recess could mean one of two things where stimulus checks are concerned.
Scenario A: Congress does nothing
After spending $3.5 trillion keeping the economy alive for the past 15 months, many members of Congress — including some Democrats — oppose giving more direct aid to Americans, especially since millions of families will soon start receiving mini stimulus checks through a temporary expansion of the child tax credit.
The Democratic leaders who run Congress may determine this week that getting a new round of direct payments through both houses of Congress would be too difficult, given the party's slim majorities.
Scenario B: Congress gets creative
The ongoing third round of stimulus checks passed narrowly, with no Republican votes, thanks to an obscure process that lets some bills clear the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes instead of 60.
Democrats can use this maneuver once more this year, so they could decide this week to make another end run around Republicans with Biden's families plan — or a huge bill combining it with the infrastructure package. Lawmakers pushing for additional stimulus checks want them tossed into the families legislation.
Washington not cutting you a check? Cut costs instead
Until congressional leaders provide more clarity, a fourth stimulus check is still up in the air. If your finances are under pressure, you have some ways to alleviate that now, without the government’s help.
If you own your home, you can still save massively by refinancing. With mortgage rates still under 3%, mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight says 14.1 million homeowners can cut their payments by an average $287 a month through a refi. Those are game-changing savings.
While you’re reducing the cost of homeownership, why stop at your mortgage? A little comparison shopping could help you save big on homeowners insurance. Shopping around might help you find a better deal on car insurance, too.
If you’ve had to lean on credit cards, personal loans or any other form of high-interest debt to get through the pandemic, the interest costs are probably making it tough to get back in the black. A single, lower-interest debt consolidation loan can help you slash your interest costs and pay off your debts faster.
While you pinch pennies, you can use a few to take a run at today’s red-hot stock market. There’s a wildly popular app that helps you invest in a diversified portfolio with just "spare change" from your everyday purchases.