Millions of Americans are set to get another coronavirus stimulus check as federal lawmakers reached an agreement Sunday night to pass a nearly $900 billion economic relief package. But the direct payments are expected to be smaller this time.
After overcoming a major obstacle in negotiations late Saturday — a compromise on a proposal by Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) to rein in the lending powers of the Federal Reserve — Congress was set to approve an aid bill that includes $600 payments to most Americans. That’s half of the $1,200 that the government gave most individuals last spring.
The Inquirer spent part of Sunday asking shoppers and vendors at Philadelphia’s Christmas Village in LOVE Park how they felt about the prospect of the long-debated holiday boost.
The consensus among those interviewed was gratitude for the financial help, with many saying they planned to spend the money on rent, groceries, and other necessities. But some said the $600 was hardly enough with businesses facing new restrictions and workers losing jobs as the virus surges just before the holidays.
“It would definitely help during this period of time,” said Sammy Sirois, who was selling jars of honey for the Philadelphia Bee Co. at the Christmas Village. “There are a lot of people that haven’t been able to keep a steady job at all, and that’s really hard.”
Sirois, 29, of West Philly, noted help is coming nearly nine months after most Americans received their previous payment from the federal government. That makes the $600 insufficient for those who had to stretch the last check, she said. Sirois plans to save any money she receives from Washington, just in case the pandemic gets worse.
Although the final language of the bill was still being ironed out Sunday evening, lawmakers were said to have settled on $600 stimulus checks for those making less than $75,000 a year, according to the Washington Post. Payments would be reduced for those with higher incomes in 2019, and people earning more than $99,000 would not receive anything, the report said. The $600 per person would include adults and children, so an eligible family of four, for instance, could get up to $2,400.
In addition to direct payments, the relief package is expected to provide an extra $300 per week in jobless benefits and a fresh round of subsidies for struggling businesses, according to the Associated Press.
Kahlil Jackson, a 33-year-old from Mount Airy, said he would spend any stimulus money to support his nonprofit, GoBelieve Culture, which helps get students through college and teaches them entrepreneurial skills, such as starting a business and marketing. He said the pandemic has made it hard to reach students this year because he can’t visit schools.
“I think $600 is OK. It’s always a great thing to me because I grew up in the projects, so any free money is good for me,” he said. “I would want for it to be more though. I wish it was more.”
The eleventh-hour breakthrough in Congress comes days before several emergency programs, including jobless benefits for workers who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment compensation, are set to expire.
One of the final hurdles was reaching an agreement on Toomey’s demand for new limits on the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority. A protest was scheduled Sunday afternoon outside Toomey’s Center City office, organized by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, an advocacy group for unemployed workers.
But around midnight Saturday, senior lawmakers worked out a deal that bars the central bank from creating exact copies of the lending programs approved in the rescue package Congress passed in March, according to the Post. A Toomey spokesperson called the tentative deal “an unqualified victory for taxpayers.”
Even with the glimmer of hope another relief package provides, residents said the deadly pandemic, crushing recession, and canceled family gatherings made it harder to enjoy the holidays. But some who donned masks and strolled through the Christmas Village tried to make the best of a grim winter.
“It’s just sad that everything is shut down coming into Philly,” said Lauren Flannery, an 18-year-old from Downingtown who said she plans to spend the $600 on college textbooks. “But I know we have it way better than a lot of people right now who are struggling.”