As the latest federal pandemic relief package makes its way to President Joe Biden’s desk, Americans may be wondering when the benefits will reach them.
The $1.9 trillion known as the “American Rescue Plan” is massive, both in size and scope. It includes direct payments to most Americans, aid to small businesses, financial help for schools and much more to help the country recover from the financial ravages of the pandemic.
The house is expected to give its final approval early this week and then it heads to Biden for his signature. The timing of its passage is crucial — most notably because some pandemic unemployment benefits will be coming to an end on Sunday.
Millions of taxpayers could begin see direct benefits almost immediately, some later this month and others taking several months to accomplish.
Here’s what you need to know about the main planks of the spending plan:
The legislation provides a direct payment of $1,400 for a single taxpayer, or $2,800 for a married couple that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent. Individuals earning up to $75,000 would get the full amount, as would married couples with incomes up to $150,000.
The size of the check would shrink for those making slightly more, with a hard cut-off at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples.
Biden estimates that 85% of Americans will be eligible for the payment. Some groups that were not eligible for prior payments — such as dependent college students and disabled adults — are now eligible.
Biden said the goal is to send out the payments starting this month.
“That means the mortgage can get paid. That means the child can stay in community college. That means maintaining the health insurance you have,” Biden said. “It’s going to make a big difference in so many of lives in this country.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the administration is doing everything in its power to expedite payments. As such, the Treasury is working to get more payments to taxpayers by direct deposit. The agency will be able to send direct deposit payments to those who have their information on file from 2019 or 2020 tax filings or who provided it through other programs.
Biden's signature will not appear on the checks, a move his predecessor made that was criticized as a delay in getting payments out.
A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 30% of Americans say their current household income remains lower than it was when the pandemic began.
The IRS and the Treasury Department began to issue the last round of payments by both direct deposit and check in only a matter of days after the outlays became law in late December.
Expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government would be extended through Sept. 6 at $300 a week. That’s on top of payments from state unemployment insurance program.
Despite a modest recovery, millions of Americans remain unemployed. The plan would also extend two key pandemic programs, which benefit about 11.8 million Americans.
These pandemic unemployment benefits were set to expire Sunday, so if there is a delay in the bill's passage there could be a gap in benefits. But the National Employment Law Project anticipates if things are finalized this week, states and existing beneficiaries likely won't see any interruption in payments.
The first $10,200 of jobless benefits would be non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000 but only for benefits from 2020. The IRS will have to issue guidelines on how to put this into practice.
Additionally, the measures provides a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums to ensure that the laid-off workers can remain on their employer health plans at no cost from April 1 through the end of September.
The package contains a number of valuable tax breaks. One of the most notable is an increase in the tax credit that taxpayers can claim for dependent children.
Under current law, most taxpayers can reduce their federal income tax bill by up to $2,000 per child. The bill would increase the tax break to $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under the age of 6.
Families would get the full credit regardless of how little they make in a year.
The aim is to deliver the money, which is an advance payment on the tax credit, in smaller monthly payments instead of one larger lump sum.
The exact timing of when this money would arrive is still unclear. If the Treasury determines that a monthly payment isn’t feasible, then the payments are to be made as frequently as possible.
Elaine Maag, principal research associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said monthly payments could begin as soon as July but if the government opts for a quarterly payments it take until could fall.
Add in the $1,400 checks and other items in the proposal, and the legislation would reduce the number of children living in poverty by more than half, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.
The bill also significantly expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for 2021 by making it available to people without children. The credit for low and moderate-income adults would be worth $543 to $1,502, depending on income and filing status.
The benefit of the EITC would not be felt until taxpayers file their returns for the 2021 tax year, which would typically be in the beginning of 2022.
The plan does not include student loan forgiveness, but it does allow for any income from the forgiveness of student loans be to be tax-free from 2021 through 2025.