Americans Are Missing Out on Stimulus Packages. Here’s Why?

Last year, Russell Robinson and his family received about $2,000 in stimulus money. He was looking forward to another check for $2,000 that President Joe Biden in January promised would arrive soon.

But after Democrats slimmed down eligibility for the checks, he, his wife, and three children didn’t make the cut this time. It’s not that Robinson needs the cash. The risk consultant, 43, from Kansas City, Missouri, remained employed throughout the pandemic.

Ultimately I’m complaining about making too much money,” Robinson said. “But it’s still disappointing.”

Robinson is one of the millions of Americans who received federal coronavirus relief money in 2020 but aren’t eligible under the bill passed this week by Congress and signed Thursday by Biden.

To Robinson, Democrats broke a promise they made in December when they called the $600 checks a “down payment” on a later round. Though he doesn’t need the extra money, Robinson said the lack of a check will have an impact on others. “It will make a huge difference to a mother of three,” he added. “It’ll be something they remember for the next election.”

The $1,400 direct payments are the largest single amount yet during the pandemic, and the total amount spent will be larger than either round of stimulus funding passed in March and December. Eligibility, however, was cut back after Democrats including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire pushed to make sure the funding wasn’t sent to people who didn’t need it to keep the lights on.

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The more-restrictive cutoffs did what the lawmakers pushed for their intended to do: keep the cost down. By instituting the lower thresholds, lawmakers shaved about $12 billion off the cost of the package.

Despite signs of recovery, millions of people in the U.S. are still without work. The unemployment rate in February fell to 6.2%, roughly the same rate it was at the 2003 peak of the dot-com bust aftermath and well below the 14.8% rate in April, but still far from the 3.5% a year ago.

Under the eligibility rules of the bill, individuals who earn as much as $75,000, or couples making $150,000, plus their children or adult dependents, qualify for the full $1,400 per person.

Single parents with at least one dependent who earn $112,500 or less also get the full amount. The payments phase out much more quickly than in previous rounds: An individual with an income of $80,000, or a couple with $160,000, get nothing. Democrats had billed the checks as “survival checks.”

The think tank Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that 280 million people would receive full or partial payment under the new criteria, compared with 288 million who received all or some of the second $600 direct payment approved in December.

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