With many cities and states under shelter-in-place orders, nonessential businesses have closed to enforce social distancing. But many Americans have been hurt by the effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. More than 3 million people filed for unemployment last week — far eclipsing the Great Recession peak of 665,000 in March 2009 and the all-time mark of 695,000 in October 1982.
To combat the crisis, the U.S. Senate has agreed on a $2 trillion bipartisan spending bill. While the details of the agreed-upon package haven't been published, lawmakers indicated Tuesday that it will include the initial GOP proposal for direct cash payments to Americans. Late Wednesday night, the Senate approved the 880-paged bill in a unanimous 96-0 vote. The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday.
What is a stimulus check?
A stimulus check is a direct payment to individuals — in amounts that vary based on age and income — from the government in order to help stimulate the economy in times of crisis. In this case, the check will be a one-time payment, however, President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have recently pushed for two payments.
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Who will get a coronavirus stimulus check?
All adults who fall into certain income- and tax-based categories are eligible for a stimulus check. Any individuals or couples who have children will also receive a check for each child.
How much will the checks be?
According to the original proposal, individuals who make up to $75,000 annually are eligible for a one-time $1,200 check.
The amount paid will decrease with higher incomes. The sum of the payment falls by $5 for every $100 earned over $75,000. Anyone who earns more than $99,000 annually will not receive a check.
Married couples who file joint taxes must earn less than $150,000 annually to be eligible for a $2,400 check.
Payment declines gradually for married couples who earn more than $150,000 and phases out for couples who earn more than $198,000.
Taxpayers who have little or no income tax liability but have at least $2,500 in qualifying income will receive a $600 check or $1,200 for married couples.
Qualifying individuals or couples who have children are eligible for an additional $500 for each child.
There is no indication of whether retirees or Social Security recipients will receive stimulus checks.
When will people receive coronavirus checks?
While there is currently no set date for Americans to receive the coronavirus stimulus checks, a proposal from the Treasury Department would send out two rounds of payments on April 6 and May 18.
However, May might be the safer bet. "It is extremely unlikely that people will get payments by April 6 — just two weeks from now," Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, told CNN. "It is more realistic to expect them in a month or two."
According to the bill passed by the Senate, payments are expected to be issued by the IRS through direct deposits and should be in American's bank accounts within weeks. Those who do not have direct deposits set up with the IRS, could expect it to take months for the government to mail checks.
What about unemployment insurance?
The bill includes a proposed increase in unemployment insurance. It will increase the maximum state unemployment benefit by $600 per week for up to four months. It also extends the benefit to those who do not typically qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees and freelancers.
When will it all be decided?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced early Wednesday morning that the Senate reached a bipartisan agreement. He said he expected the legislation to pass later on Wednesday, however, a handful of Republican senators have threatened to delay the bill over the proposed increase in unemployment insurance.
Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Lindsey Graham R-S.C. and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said the bill could provide a “strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work." The senators could hold up the bill and force votes on amendments.
Trump is expected to sign the agreement if it is passed by Congress, according to Mnuchin.