The U.S. House just passed a COVID relief bill to give you a third stimulus check — for up to $1,400 — and the legislation now moves to the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats who run Congress want the president to sign the bill by March 14, so you could receive your cash within weeks.
And will that be the end? No more direct payments?
With March marking a full year of the pandemic and with Americans still struggling to get by, some lawmakers are arguing for a fourth stimulus check — and more after that. So if you'd find yourself needing more money for bills and to pay down debt, you'd have it.
But the current relief bill cleared the House early Saturday on a vote of just 219 to 212, and the Senate vote will be a squeaker. So is it realistic to hope for further relief payments? Here's a closer look.
Some Democrats push for more stimulus checks
Fifty Democratic U.S. representatives, including Minnesota's Ilhan Omar and New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have signed a letter pressing President Joe Biden’s administration to issue recurring stimulus checks to help Americans cover essential needs for the duration of the pandemic.
“One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis,” the letter says.
Much like the earlier two rounds of stimulus checks, the expected third batch would help Americans with the essentials. Last April, the very first, $1,200 checks were mostly spent on household expenses like groceries and rent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Others used at least a portion of the cash for saving and investing, a bureau survey found, or for other purposes. Some consumers likely went shopping for affordable life insurance, because those policies have seen a surge in demand during the pandemic.
While the letter from the lawmakers doesn't suggest a dollar amount for the regular payments, Rep. Omar tweeted in January that she’d like to see the government provide $2,000 per month to carry people through the crisis.
Friends and foes of recurring checks
The idea of monthly stimulus checks might attract some fans in high places.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell (pictured) made a good case this week for the government to spend more on COVID relief. He testified to Congress that the economy is "highly uncertain," and he indicated that stimulus checks and other aid aren't likely to drive up inflation.
CEOs of retail chains would likely support giving more government cash to consumers. Retail sales surged in January after Round 2 of the checks went out, and Macy's is expecting a big sales boost in the coming months from a third round.
But a plan for future, recurring checks would have no shortage of detractors. Republicans already oppose the third checks as expensive and unnecessary, and some Democrats believe the payments should be more targeted to people with lower incomes.
A big barrier to further stimulus checks
Beyond the likely opposition, there's a more complicated reason you shouldn't get your hopes too high for more cash from Uncle Sam.
Democrats are currently pushing Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill through Congress using an arcane budget process that allows them to pass the legislation with simple majorities — and potentially no Republican support.
House Republicans all voted no on Saturday.
Biden and the Democrats can use the streamlined, go-it-alone approach just one more time this year, and they'd have to wait until the next fiscal year starts on Oct. 1 to do that.
With other priorities on his mind including climate change, health care and infrastructure, the president probably won’t want to use up his remaining opportunity to dole out more stimulus checks.
What if you think you'll need more relief?
If you’re anxiously waiting for a third stimulus check and are already worrying about your income later in the year, you have some options to build more cash into your budget.
Lose the interest. Have you been leaning hard on your credit cards through the pandemic, and racking up costly interest? Make your debt more manageable — and pay it off more quickly — by folding your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.
Make savings your policy. Are you stuck at home these days instead of cruising the open road? Car insurance companies have been doling out discounts for drivers who are using their cars less. If yours won’t offer savings, shop around for a better deal. And while you’re at it, comparing rates on homeowners insurance could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
Refinance your mortgage (if you've got one) and slash your payments. If you haven’t looked around for a lower interest rate on your home loan in the last year, there’s no better time than now. Rates remain historically low, and refinancing your existing mortgage could reap big savings. Millions of U.S. homeowners could reduce their monthly house payments by more than $300 through a refi, the mortgage tech and data provider Black Knight reported in early February.
Trim your budget and "make your own" stimulus check. Using a few creative ways to cut back, you might come up with the equivalent of a monthly stimulus check. Do you need a big data plan if you’re just at home on Wi-Fi all day? Call up your cellphone provider and switch to a cheaper option. Have a hobby or special talent? Turn it into a side hustle to bring in extra income. And, download a free browser extension that will automatically scour for better prices and coupons whenever you shop online.