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Stimulus Checks Are Coming. But When Can Families Expect Their Money?

Here's what you need to know.

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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the House and the Senate have approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act a $2 trillion relief package to help relieve economic calamity. Now that President Trump has signed the bill into low, what does it actually do? And what does it mean for families? The short answer: a lot of different things.

The CARES Act creates a half-a-billion-dollar loan program to bail out businesses. There’s also a $600-per-week bump to unemployment insurance that extends to gig and freelance workers as well as those who’ve been furloughed workers but are still receiving insurance. Funding for hospitals, medical equipment, small business loans, and state and local governments also made it into the bill.

But, perhaps most relevantly for American families, there is $250 billion set aside for direct payments. This will get doled out in individual payments. Here’s what that means, how much you’ll get and when the check will arrive.

How much money will be disbursed?

Every American adult with a Social Security number and an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less will receive $1,200 in the mail. For married couples, those amounts are doubled ($2,400 for income up to $150,000). Parents will receive an additional $500 for each minor in their household.

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So, if you and your spouse have two kids, filed jointly the last time you did your taxes, and had less than $150,000 in combined adjusted gross income on that filing, your family would receive $3,400.

Individuals making between $75,000 and $99,000 would receive smaller payments, $5 less for every $100 over $75,000 in income. Democrats were able to ensure that the people making the least would receive the same amount; the GOP plan as originally written gave them smaller payments.

Importantly, these calculations will be based on adjusted gross incomes for 2019, if already filed, or 2018, if not. If you’ve had a change in income that could affect the amount of your stimulus and have yet to file your taxes, that’s something to consider, particularly given that you won’t have to file until July 15 this year.

When will people receive their payments?

The IRS announced on March 30 that payments would begin to go out within three weeks, but there are reasons to assume that most Americans won’t receive their money until later. The Bush administration sent out checks twice; it took about six weeks to get them in the mail the first time and two to three months the second time.

And while the process will be more computerized (and presumably quicker) thanks to more taxpayers e-filing now than in the Bush years, the IRS is operating with a smaller budget and staff, the victim of years of Republican-sponsored cuts.

Do I need to do anything to receive my payment?

Probably not. If you filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes, your payment will be calculated automatically. If the IRS has your direct deposit information on hand from those filings, it will send you the payment electronically. There are plans to create a portal for people who want their payment made through direct deposit to provide their account information to the IRS.

Sans direct deposit, the IRS will send a paper check which will obviously take longer to arrive.

Are future payments a possibility?

Nancy Pelosi has promised to forge ahead on another coronavirus relief bill even as her Republican counterparts voiced skepticism about the necessity of a so-called “Stage 4” bill. Little is known about what she might want it to do, but plenty of members of her caucus have been vocal about the shortcomings of this bill even if they voted for it.

Along with objections to the loose terms companies who receive bailout funds will have to follow, the principal objection seems to be the inadequacy of the payments. Several representatives released proposals to pay out greater amounts and repeat them monthly through the duration of the crisis. They have a point, as it’s hard to imagine a single $1,200 payment as more than a temporary bandage for struggling workers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, has also taken issue with the fact that immigrant workers who pay taxes aren’t eligible for the stimulus payments at all.

But while there’s likely to be some advocacy for additional direct payments, particularly given that the infrastructure of the payments should be established by this bill, it’s far from clear that a majority of congressional Democrats, much less a majority of Congress, would be on board with such a move.

This story is developing. For the latest information from the IRS, visit irs.gov/coronavirus.