In the two weeks or so since Americans started getting their second coronavirus relief payments — "stimulus checks" — the anticipation has built quickly toward a third phase.
President-elect Joe Biden had called the latest, $600 round of cash a "down payment," and on Thursday, he laid out a proposal for a massive new COVID relief package — including a fresh batch of checks, this time for $1,400.
In a speech, Biden said people desperately need the additional help: "A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there's no time to waste."
How soon are you likely to receive more cash? And, could the impeachment drama now underway on Capitol Hill slow things down? Here's what's currently known about the third stimulus checks.
'Real pain overwhelming the real economy'
Biden has taken the wraps off a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan that includes beefed-up unemployment benefits, an increase in the federal minimum wage (to $15 an hour) and the new direct payments for most people.
"During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck,” Biden said in the speech. “There is real pain overwhelming the real economy."
Many struggling consumers have been eager for more government relief. Last spring's first, $1,200 stimulus payments were largely spent on basics like groceries and utility bills, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
Some people also invested the money, a bureau survey found, or used it for various other needs. Those may have included buying affordable life insurance, as the pandemic has seen sales of policies take off.
So, what's the possible timing on 3rd checks?
How quickly could new payments go out? The incoming Senate majority leader, New York's Chuck Schumer, has sent a letter to his fellow Democrats pledging that COVID aid will be the first item on the agenda for the new Senate.
But nothing can happen, legislation-wise, before late January. Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, but the Senate may not be completely sworn in until Jan. 22.
That means if Congress and the incoming administration are able to come together on fresh relief money, you could receive yours in the first part of February, at the earliest.
The Senate may soon be faced with holding an impeachment trial of outgoing President Donald Trump, but Schumer is committed to passing the new pandemic package simultaneously. "Yes, we've got to do both," he told The Buffalo News.
What if you need more than $600 right now?
If the coronavirus is squeezing your family finances and you need more than the latest $600 checks immediately, here are ways to pull together some money on your own:
Scour your budget for savings. Dump any subscription services you're not using. Do more of your own cooking and stop ordering carryout so much. And download a free browser add-on that will save you money every time you shop online by instantly checking for better prices and coupons.
Shrink the cost of your debt. If you’ve been leaning on your credit cards during the COVID crisis, you're probably piling up a mountain of interest. Rein in your credit card debt — and make it disappear more quickly — by rolling your balances into a single debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate.
Stop overpaying for insurance. As Americans have cut back on their driving in the pandemic, many car insurance companies have cut their rates. But if your insurer won’t give you a break, shop around for a better option. Also, save hundreds on your homeowners insurance by comparing rates to find a better deal on that coverage.
Refinance your mortgage and slash your payments. Mortgage rates are the lowest off all time, and refinancing your existing home loan could provide major savings. Mortgage tech and data provider Black Knight says 19.4 million U.S. homeowners could cut their monthly house payments by an average $308 per month through a refi.
A few final notes
Here's why the new checks will be for $1,400: You add that to the latest $600 payments to get $2,000, which is what Trump and Democrats pushed for in late December. The larger amount got blocked by the Republicans now leading the Senate.
Biden's Democratic party will take control over both houses of Congress in the coming week, because Democrats recently won a pair of Senate runoff elections in Georgia. The Democrats' Senate majority will be so thin that every Democratic vote will be needed to get the new stimulus checks passed.
But West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has told The Washington Post he "absolutely" opposes giving most Americans a total of $2,000.
Even so, some Republicans senators have supported giving Americans more cash. Florida's Marco Rubio sent Biden a letter on Tuesday saying that rallying Congress behind the new payments would help "heal our deeply divided nation."