The presidential election has been called, and a big change is coming to Washington. But so much stubbornly remains the same: COVID-19 is raging, the economy is weak, and Congress still hasn't approved a new round of $1,200 "stimulus checks" for Americans.
Lawmakers return to Washington this week, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (pictured) has called work on a new aid bill "job one" for the lame-duck session.
But McConnell and other Republicans are likely to butt heads with Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who negotiated for months with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin but never got a deal.
The House last month passed a massive economic rescue package, including fresh direct payments to consumers.
Coronavirus cases are spiking again and fears of new lockdowns are growing — so when might you get more relief money? Here’s the latest on the possible timing.
What’s taking them so long?
It has been over six months since the IRS started sending out the initial round of stimulus checks, and the deadline to claim your payment — if you haven’t gotten one yet — is only a few weeks away.
So far, Republicans and Democrats have disagreed on a number of issues regarding the next aid package — everything from unemployment benefits to the language the government uses when talking about the coronavirus.
But the most divisive issue has been the size and scope of the relief measure itself.
Speaker Pelosi has been negotiating on behalf of a $2.2 trillion House bill that passed in early October. It calls for giving Americans another $1,200 payment, plus an additional $500 per dependent.
The White House was willing to go as far as about $1.9 trillion, including more stimulus checks. Meanwhile, the Republicans leading the Senate previously offered a roughly $500 billion "skinny" bill, with no second round of payments. That proposal fizzled.
Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell told reporters last week that new help to stimulate the economy and support households is "absolutely essential."
What's the possible timing now?
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, amid the pandemic.
Many people have been hoping for months that they'd get a second payment. Speaker Pelosi said Friday that with new U.S. COVID cases breaking daily records, "the imperative to act could not be greater" for Congress.
McConnell says he wants a new aid bill wrapped up before the end of the year. But after Friday's jobs report showed a sharp drop in unemployment, the Senate Republican leader said it would be appropriate to pass "something smaller" — which might not include stimulus checks.
A big question is whether President Donald Trump will be interested in pushing for new relief during his remaining weeks.
If a breakthrough can come quickly this month, and it includes new direct payments, money could start flowing to Americans as early as December. Earlier this year, it took about two and a half weeks for the government to start getting payments out after the president signed the legislation.
What to do in the meantime
If you can’t wait until December or later to maybe get some more money in your pocket, here are some ideas for how you can find an extra $1,200 on your own.
Shave down your debt. If you’ve been surviving on your credit cards during the pandemic, you’re likely racking up a mountain of interest. You may be able to reduce the amount you’re losing — and become debt-free sooner — by rolling your current balances into a single debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate.
Cut your insurance costs. Americans have been driving a lot less 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 bundle. According to the data firm Black Knight, 18.5 million American homeowners could bring down their payments by an average $304 per month with a refi.
Pump the brakes on your spending. Get rid of any subscription services you don’t use. Order in less and prepare more meals at home. And download a free browser extension that will ensure you get the best price available whenever you shop online.
Earn cash back on your groceries. There’s a free app out there that will earn you cash-back rewards on your groceries just by snapping a picture of your receipt. It may not be enough to cover your rent for the month, but when times are tight every extra dollar helps.
Don’t let your talents go to waste. Got a hobby like writing, drawing or web design? You may be able to turn your talents into extra income by picking up a side gig through an online marketplace. Once you start getting gigs and accumulating positive reviews, you can raise the price of your services and bring in even more money.