Issue #87: Are we getting a fourth stimulus check, or...?

plus ice cream + a rebel beaver
Money
Dollar Scholar
Hi y’all —

Less is more, except when it’s not.

Less is not more, for example, when it comes to sunscreen. (I have learned this lesson the hard way several times, most recently during a 2018 beach trip that left me so sunburned I later bought a broken bottle of aloe vera because I was desperate and it was the only one left at Rite-Aid.) Less is not more with Breyers mint chocolate chip ice cream. And less is certainly not more as it applies to Jonas Brothers concerts.

Another exception to this rule is stimulus checks. Congress, under two different presidents, has approved three rounds of direct aid to help people through the coronavirus crisis. 

The first round of stimulus checks went out last spring in the amount of $1,200 per person (plus $500 per dependent under age 17). The second set went out in January and were $600 each. The third round of payments is going out now; they’re $1,400 apiece.

Despite all the glitches — and there have been many — millions of Americans have received a no-strings-attached cash infusion from the government in the past year. The stimulus payments helped people buy groceries, pay rent and beef up their savings accounts while the economy was in free fall. But now, as things are calming down, I can’t help but wonder about the future. 

Forget less is more. What are the chances of a fourth stimulus check? What factors are at play here?

It’s not outlandish. Kamala Harris, before she was vice president, advocated for $2,000 monthly payments for people who made up to $120,000. In January, more than 50 House Democrats wrote a letter to Harris and President Joe Biden calling for “recurring cash payments” that would “continue until the economy recovers,” going to “those who need it most and will spend it the quickest.” In early March, a group of senators wrote their own letter to that effect, noting that “this crisis is far from over.”

Right now, any speculation on a fourth stimulus check is just that: speculation, Columbia Business School professor R.A. Farrokhnia told me. But there are several trends we can examine to predict how the debate might unfold.

With the first stimulus check, which was passed as part of the CARES Act, there was urgency. Last spring, the nation didn’t quite know what it was dealing with yet — just that people needed financial assistance ASAP.

“When you’re in such a scenario, there is less of a concern for partisanship,” says Farrokhnia, who is also executive director of the Columbia Fintech Initiative. “With each [subsequent] round, the conversation became a little more heated, a little more philosophical, within the political establishment.”

He’s right: Things did get pretty nasty between Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell last year, with the latter calling stimulus checks “socialism for rich people.” Any suggestion of a fourth check would probably spark similar conversations. The debate would be dramatic and drawn-out. 
$1400 drops Me, googling: "fourth stimulus check when"
In addition, given the fact that last time not even all Democrats were on board with the proposal, the legislation would have to be extremely targeted to make it through Congress. Lawmakers would make a concerted effort to avoid paying people who don’t actually need help. Farrokhnia said this means there could be “more resistance to blank-check” a fourth direct payment.

David Hopkins, an associate political science professor at Boston College, told me the chances of a fourth stimulus check also depend on how the economy performs in the next couple of months. The American Rescue Plan extended extra unemployment benefits through September, which he says indicates the timeline lawmakers have in mind for revisiting the issue.

By summer, depending on how vaccination goes, it could be a different world — and that could seriously change the conversation.

“Does it look like the country is returning to normal?” Hopkins adds. “I think if that’s true, the pressure will abate for another round of stimulus checks. If there’s still a feeling that there’s widespread distress and widespread demand for more of these direct payments, I think there’ll be much more interest.”

In a scenario like that, a narrow proposal would probably become law the fastest (as opposed to tucking checks into another gigantic, multipronged package). Stimulus checks are generally popular among voters, so Hopkins said if Democrats were to put up a standalone bill, they could likely find some Republican support.

But again, that’s a while off, if at all. 

Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, is also looking to the future. She told me that the previous stimulus checks weren’t really intended to be stimulating in the way I might think — instead of giving money to people to spend at bars and movie theaters, they were stopgap measures to help people put food on the table. In her eyes, the American Rescue Plan was just that: a rescue plan.

“What's coming next is going to be a stimulus plan,” Appelbaum says. “I would be really surprised if there’s another stimulus check going out to households.”

Crisis mode is over. Instead, she said the Biden administration is likely to pivot into growth. The president will tackle physical infrastructure as well as what she calls care infrastructure, which includes improving child care, elder care, paid family leave and such. He’ll also prioritize the environment.

The White House may expand unemployment again, but Appelbaum says she doesn’t see “a role or a desire to send checks to everybody as they have done in the past.
THE BOTTOM LINE
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)

A fourth round of stimulus checks is not impossible, and nobody knows exactly what will happen. But I shouldn’t count on another payment, especially not in the near future. More targeted investment is the key for politicians moving forward.

In fact, Hopkins told me to take any public pronouncements about a fourth stimulus with a grain of salt. 

“Support for a policy in the abstract is different from pushing for it and making the tradeoffs you need to make to actually enact it,” he adds.


God Bless the United States
via GIPHY
RECEIPT OF THE WEEK
January Jones
via Instagram
While filming a “get ready with me” video recently, actress January Jones showed off the $3,409 (!) in skin care products she uses daily. Not every step in her routine is pricey — she uses a $38 sugar scrub alongside $810 serum — but that’s far from cheap. I might even call it mad expensive.
INTERNET GOLD
five things I'm loving online right now
1 Think you know your cheeses? Put your turophile skills to the test with this BuzzFeed quiz. Beware: It starts off easy and then gets hard — like, Parmesan hard.
2 Italy is my bucket-list vacation spot, so I loved this interview with travel writer Julia Buckley, who recently visited a completely empty Uffizi Gallery in Florence. “I was treading the same floorboards as Dante, Machiavelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici, completely alone — it was staggering to think about,” Buckley said. “I spent 20 minutes alone with Botticelli’s Venus — even the guard had left. I could get up close and see the individual strands of her hair, and we just stood there, locking eyes with each other.” Whew.
3 Pro tip: If a realtor makes a point of telling you the house they’re selling isn’t haunted, it’s definitely haunted.
4 This video of French speedrider Valentin Delluc skiing through the mountains is absolutely wild. I’m terrified of heights (and drones, tbh), but the footage is breathtaking. Apparently stunts are Delluc’s thing — he once skied down a glacier the dark, and his Instagram is full of amazing trick shots. Consider me scared and impressed.
5 Meanwhile, in Canada...
401(K)9 CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Max
via Scholar Christy
This is an exciting day because we have our first-ever FOSTER 401(K)9! Meet Max, a one-eyed pup who is fine not getting another stimumutt check as long as he finds a forever home. 

(Seriously, though. You can adopt Max from the True North Rescue Mission. HMU if you want to connect.)
See you next week.

Julia

P.S. I loved hearing your thoughts about Social Security last issue! One of my favorite replies came from Scholar Lindsay, who said she and her husband, both in their early 30s, are saving as if the program won't be around once they retire. Seems like a solid approach for millennials.

P.P.S. Do you think we’re getting a fourth stimulus check? Have you ever met a ghost? What’s your favorite cheese? Write to me at julia.glum@money.com or @SuperJulia on Twitter.
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