The pandemic's fourth stimulus check has so far been nothing more than talk, but it may move closer to becoming a real thing this week as Congress returns to work after its Memorial Day recess and following some potentially encouraging comments from the Biden White House.
Scores of lawmakers have been arguing for another relief payment, and they're likely to push harder by capitalizing on fresh developments. Those include remarks from his press secretary that President Joe Biden could go along with a fourth check, and new evidence of how stimulus checks are making a difference.
It's now been almost three months since the IRS started paying out the government's third round of COVID stimulus checks, for up to $1,400, and in many households that money is long gone. Here's the latest on whether you're likely to see more relief, to help you cover your bills and pay down debt.
Support for a fourth check keeps growing
More than 80 mostly Democratic members of Congress have signed letters urging President Joe Biden to approve a fourth stimulus check. Seven members of the House Ways and Means Committee — a congressional panel with significant influence over government spending — recently became the latest to join the cause.
In their letter to Biden, the Ways and Means members said a fourth stimulus check and a fifth would keep an additional 12 million people out of poverty.
The lawmakers don't recommend a specific dollar amount for the new payments. But other members of the House and the Senate have called for $2,000 checks, and so does a Change.org petition now signed by 2.3 million citizens.
Though the economy is recovering, there are signs many Americans still need help. Friday's jobs report from the government showed 9.3 million people are unemployed, far more than the 5.8 million who were out of work in February 2020, before the pandemic struck.
And, a new study from the University of California, Berkeley finds almost 6 million renters owe close to $20 billion in back rent — with a national moratorium on evictions set to expire June 30.
New report: Stimulus checks have major impacts
Meanwhile, backers of additional stimulus checks can point to new evidence that the previous payments offered vital relief: An analysis of census survey data done by the University of Michigan shows the last two rounds of federal assistance have been critical in keeping Americans fed, housed and mentally healthy.
From January through April, households with children reporting food shortages dropped by 42%, while overall financial instability decreased by 43%. Reports of frequent anxiety and depression fell by more than 20%.
"Cash aid offers families great flexibility to address their most pressing problems," H. Luke Shaefer, one of the university professors behind the report, told The New York Times.
Beyond paying for groceries and housing costs (rent and mortgage payments), stimulus checks also have helped recipients purchase nonessential, but still necessary, things like clothing and affordable life insurance. Demand for those policies has seen a sharp increase due to the pandemic.
Census data has shown other top ways of using stimulus cash have included saving the money, and investing in the white-hot stock market.
White House isn't saying no to another payment
President Biden hasn't responded directly to the pleas for at least one more direct payment. But his spokeswoman just indicated that Biden isn't ruling out another stimulus check.
"The president is certainly open to a range of ideas," press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday, in response to a question about the dozens of lawmakers who want Biden to throw his support behind a fourth check.
"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 said, while adding that Biden has already proposed the things he believes will be "most effective for the short term."
Right now, Congress is trying to make headway on Biden's proposals to fund infrastructure projects and help families. Democrats who want additional checks say they should be added to Biden's "families plan" — but that would further increase the cost of that $1.8 trillion package, possibly by hundreds of billions.
Getting a fourth round of stimulus checks through both houses of Congress — particularly a tied Senate, where one lost Democratic vote means the end of the road — would not be easy. The third payments received zero support from Republicans and even faced resistance from moderate Democrats.
Where to find financial relief right now
For now, no one knows whether or if a fourth stimulus check will arrive. But one thing that's certain is that you have options if you need an extra $2,000 immediately to help make ends meet.
Dominate your debt. Credit cards are great if you can pay them off quickly, but high-interest debt from your plastic can take a monstrous bite out of your finances over time. A lower-interest debt consolidation loan can help you slash your interest costs and pay off your debts faster.
Refinance your mortgage and save. If you’re a homeowner and haven't refinanced your mortgage in the last year, you could be leaving money on the table. With the typical mortgage rate still below 3%, mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight says 14.1 million homeowners have an opportunity to save an average $287 a month through a refi.
Cut your insurance costs. While you’re reducing the cost of homeownership, don’t stop at your mortgage. A little comparison shopping could help you save hundreds on homeowners insurance. You also might find a better deal on car insurance if you shop around and compare rates for that coverage. One study found motorists who don't shop around tend to overpay by $1,100 a year.
Dip your toe in the stock market. You don't need another government check to take a run at the stock market, which recovered from its COVID-19 losses and has just kept climbing. A wildly popular app can help you grow a diversified portfolio using just "spare change" from everyday purchases.