Fourth stimulus check in jeopardy while the last payments keep dwindling

Though people are still receiving stimulus checks of up to $1,400 from the pandemic's third round, that emergency support from President Joe Biden's administration is fast running out. And so far, there's no fourth stimulus check in the works.

Millions of struggling Americans are pleading for more relief to help them cover essential bills and pay down debt, and scores of lawmakers are fighting to keep the money flowing. There's talk in Congress of a fourth direct payment and even a fifth.

But proposals calling for additional stimulus checks appear to be in jeopardy, at least right now. Here's a look at where things stand.

Pleas for new checks grow as last round winds downSteve Heap / Shutterstock

Last week, the IRS sent another 1.8 million direct payments to households under the COVID-19 rescue bill President Joe Biden signed in March. That makes for a total of nearly 167 million payments worth roughly $391 billion since the third round of stimulus checks started going out on March 12.

The distribution is likely winding down. Round 2 last winter involved just 147 million payments, the IRS says, though this time the number has been higher because some people have received bonus checks based on their 2020 tax returns.

The chorus of voices calling for additional direct payments continues to build.

Nearly 2.25 million people have now signed an online petition started by an out-of-work restaurant owner in Denver calling for new $2,000 stimulus checks for adults and $1,000 payments for children. Those would be followed by regular checks for the duration of the pandemic.

More than 80 members of Congress have signed letters urging President Biden to support recurring payments for the rest of the crisis. Most recently, seven members of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee wrote to ask Biden to include the ongoing relief in his new package of support for families.

"A fourth and fifth check could keep an additional 12 million out of poverty," the committee members say in their letter.

Story continuesEconomic data raises doubts about need for more aidVintage Tone / Shutterstock

Recent census data shows that among people willing to give an answer, the majority have continued to spend their stimulus checks on basic necessities, including food, rent, mortgage payments and utilities.

And though some have used their cash to invest in the record-shattering stock market, others have bought nonessential, but still necessary, things like clothing and affordable life insurance. Demand for those policies has seen a sharp increase due to the pandemic.

But while many Americans would benefit from further government support, there's increasing evidence that the pandemic's worst days may be far enough behind to make another round of stimulus checks unnecessary.

The government confirmed last week that the U.S. economy grew at a strong 6.4% annual rate over January, February and March. Unemployment remains high — 6.1% in April with nearly 10 million out of work — but new sign-ups for jobless benefits recently hit their lowest level since the COVID crisis began.

Biden's Democratic party controls Congress by ultra-thin margins, and those majorities include moderates who are likely to resist footing the bill for billions more in stimulus checks at a time when the economy is already showing signs of life.

Those fiscal conservatives had heartburn over the latest, third round of direct payments and successfully demanded that the money be "targeted" away from taxpayers earning $75,000 or more.

Will there be a fourth check? Stay tuned

A fourth stimulus check seems pretty iffy at the moment.

Though President Biden told Congress in late April that the direct payments have been "making all the difference" to many people, he hasn't given any indication that he wants to see more. His press secretary told reporters that stimulus checks "are not free," and that it's up to lawmakers to decide whether to provide more.

For now, Democratic leaders are highlighting the new stimulus checks, of a sort, that are on the way to U.S. families starting this summer. From July through December, parents who qualify will receive monthly payments of up to $300 per child, as part of a temporary expansion of the child tax credit.

As for those proposals calling for regular payments through the end of the pandemic, congressional leaders haven't taken any stand. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the priorities for Congress include passing Biden's "families plan" and his spending package to fix U.S. roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

The goal is to complete both bills this summer. So, there could be time to toss recurring stimulus checks into the families plan, as recommended by House Ways and Means Committee members.

But don't look for any movement this week. Congress is on its Memorial Day break until the week of June 7.

You may need to create your own stimulusGreenMiles / Shutterstock

A fourth stimulus check may not be on its way any time soon — if it comes at all. But if you need more relief, you have plenty of options for creating a little more financial breathing room on your own.

Refinance your mortgage. If you’re a homeowner and haven't refinanced your mortgage in the last year, you could be leaving money on the table. With the typical mortgage rate dipping below 3% again, mortgage data and technology provider Black Knight said last week that 14.1 million homeowners have an opportunity to save an average $287 a month through a refi.

Cut your insurance costs. While you’re slashing the cost of homeownership, don’t stop at your mortgage because a little comparison shopping could help you save big on homeowners insurance. Shopping around and comparing rates also might help you find a better deal on car insurance.

Diminish your debt. Credit cards are great if you can pay them off in the short term, but carrying high-interest credit card debt can take a monstrous bite out of your finances over time. You can slash your interest costs and pay off your debts faster by rolling them into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.

Grow your spare change in the stock market. You don't need another $1,400 check to take a shot at the stock market, which recovered from its COVID-19 losses and has kept climbing. A wildly popular app can help you invest in a diversified portfolio just by using "spare change" from everyday purchases.

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