But runoff races for Georgia’s two Senate seats — one has been clinched by Democrat Raphael Warnock and Democrat Jon Ossoff holds a lead over Republican David Perdue for the other — are once again rallying congressional Democrats and President-elect Joe Biden around the idea of an additional $1,400 in direct relief, on top of the $600 checks that were included in last month’s stimulus package.
“Their election will put an end to the block in Washington — that $2,000 stimulus check — that money would go out the door immediately, to help people who are in real trouble,” Biden said in Georgia in the final days of the race. “Think about what it will mean to your lives — putting food on the table, paying rent.”
How do the $600 checks work?
The sprawling package signed by Trump over the holidays provides $600 to adults with annual incomes up to $75,000, plus another $600 per child. A family of four could receive $2,400 if it meets the income requirements.
Under that bipartisan stimulus law, the payment amount decreases by 5 percent for every dollar over the “full stimulus” limit. That means that checks under $600 will still go out to individuals making up to $87,000 a year.
What’s the proposal to increase those checks?
New legislation already passed by the House could increase the full stimulus check amount to $2,000 (or $1,400 on top of the $600 already approved, for most people). The phaseout structure is still the same, but because the check itself is larger, people making up to $115,000 would still get something.
Adult dependents, who were excluded from the last stimulus, would also be eligible for the $2,000 checks under the bill passed by the House. That includes millions of 17- and 18-year olds, college-age students and adult children with serious disabilities, who receive little income and can also be claimed as tax dependents.
Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, broke down who would get payments under the House plan, and how large those deposits would be.
For example, under the stimulus package already signed into law, a family of four making more than $198,000 would get nothing. Under the House plan, the high-income threshold rises to $310,000. In that plan, a family of four making up to $150,000 would receive $8,000. If that same family were making $300,000, they would still get $500.
Would more people get some payment under the new law? And at what cost?
Ernie Tedeschi, an economist and former Treasury Department official in the Obama administration, estimated that 8.8 million additional families will get a check of some sort under the House plan.
That comes with a price tag. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that approving stimulus checks of $2,000 would cost $464 billion. That would be on top of the $900 billion package that includes expanded unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, vaccine distribution and more.
Who opposes larger stimulus checks?
Congressional Republicans had long sought to keep the price tag of a relief bill under $1 trillion. But given Trump’s steadfast insistence on $2,000 checks, pressure mounted on McConnell and the GOP last week to give the green light for larger checks.
Last week, McConnell blocked initial consideration of the House bill in the Senate and effectively nixed movement on the $2,000 payments, despite Trump’s repeated push.
“The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” McConnell said last week.
On one side of the divide within the Republican Party, an increasing number of GOP senators showed support for $2,000 checks. Trump last week tweeted that “unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP.”
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of GOP lawmakers wary about extending money to families with higher incomes, particularly those who are not bearing the brunt of the covid crisis.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters last week that she was concerned about how the House bill was structured.
“For example, for a family of four, the income level at which you would get nothing is more than $300,000,” Collins said. “And in a state like mine, that’s high income. So I don’t know whether it’s possible to put a cap on it or make some changes.”
If the Senate approves larger checks, how will the money go out?
The Treasury Department has said that if another bill was enacted to cover larger checks, payments that were already issued “will be topped up as quickly as possible.” The payments will be distributed automatically, with no action required for people who qualify.
This story has been updated. Jeff Stein, Tony Romm and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.