The Stimulus Bill Is ‘Better Than Nothing’ – But Not Enough to Boost the Economy


This time, Congress really means it. They are really going to pass that stimulus bill – still up for a vote as of Monday afternoon – which should be a huge relief to millions of people whose livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics, has already gotten a lot of attention for his tweet yesterday calling the bill “much better than nothing.” However, it may not be enough to offset a slowdown that is likely to last into the spring, if not longer.

The key limiting factor for the bill is that it cost less than $900 billion. That simply will likely not be enough to jolt the economy, with the U.S. trillions of dollars in debt (even more trillions than usual) and unemployment levels at rates comparable to the Great Recession. Another issue is who will receive relief funds (taxpayers with a 2019 income below $99,000) and who will not (state, local and tribal governments).

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See: How Big Will Your Stimulus Check Be?
Explore: The Stimulus Check Secret You Need to Know Before You File Your 2020 Taxes

The centerpiece of the bill is a $300 weekly increase in unemployment benefits effective December 27 and continuing through March 14. This is smaller than the $600 increase in the original CARES Act. Although people hope that the pandemic will be over by mid-March, it could well stretch out longer.

The second key feature of the stimulus is another check program. The government will send checks (or bank deposits) worth $600 per person to each family with a 2019 income below $75,000. The hope is that the recipients will spend the money to support businesses. This is good news for households that need the money, but not all recipients do. For households where the money isn’t needed to cover groceries or utilities, there isn’t much urgency to spend it. People can’t go to restaurants or travel, those working and attending school from home may not need new clothes, and jigsaw puzzles are cheap.

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See: What a $600 Stimulus Check Can Actually Buy You in America
Explore: Will You Get Your Stimulus Check in Time for Christmas?

Finally, the bill includes an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program. Forbes reports that the requirements are being tightened in order to prevent the abuses under the first program. A key is that applicants will need to indicate necessity. The original PPP was subject to delays in the application process that frustrated small businesses that did not have strong banking relationships. Furthermore, many of those who applied did so not because they needed the money but because it was available.

For example, houses of worship were included in the program to keep secretaries, musicians, and youth ministers on staff. These are generally not highly paid positions to begin with. And yet, megachurch pastors with media empires and private jets were also able to receive funds.

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See: This is How Americans Spent Their Stimulus Money
Explore: Refusing to Wait for Congress, These Cities and States Are Handing Out COVID-19 Relief

The big loser in the stimulus? State, local, and tribal governments. Their tax receipts are off at all levels. Sales taxes, hotel taxes, fuel taxes, income taxes, and transfer fees are all down, and needs have increased dramatically. Unemployment claims up. Medicaid programs are stretched by Covid treatment costs. Offices and schools have new expenses for personal protective equipment. And there is no help from the federal government.

The stimulus is good news, but let’s put it plainly: It’s unlikely to be enough to support the economy and turn this financial crisis around.

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The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of GOBankingRates, ConsumerTrack Inc. or its staff.