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A fourth stimulus check is 'certainly possible,' says economist: Here's what's being discussed

"This crisis is far from over, and families deserve certainty. ..."

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The process of sending out third-round stimulus checks is well underway, with 100 million stimulus checks expected to be delivered by Thursday, according to the White House.

But with so many people struggling financially, some Americans are already wondering whether a fourth stimulus check could be on the table. Over the last few days, searches for "fourth stimulus check" ramped up, according to Google Trends.

Is that just wishful thinking? Not necessarily. "More direct stimulus payments are certainly possible," says Peter Earle, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research.

Here's what economists and lawmakers say about the likelihood of another direct stimulus payment.

A fourth stimulus check 'will have to come,' some economists say

With nearly 18 million Americans still receiving unemployment benefits and the unemployment rate at 6.2% as of February, more stimulus is necessary, says David Blanchflower, an economics professor at Dartmouth College. The American Rescue Plan "probably won't be big enough, and more stimulus will have to come later," he adds.

The likelihood of another check getting approved by lawmakers will depend on three main factors: interest rates, financial market performance, and the public support for Biden's policies, according to Earle.

Politics will also play a big role in further stimulus approval. "The upcoming midterm elections, if the GOP takes back even a few Senate seats, negotiation of fiscal matters will change dramatically," he says.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed using the budget reconciliation process, meaning that Senate Democrats only needed a simple majority. In order for recurring payments to be approved, they would likely need bipartisan support to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

Some lawmakers have pushed for recurring stimulus payments

Earlier this month, 11 Democratic senators — including Ron Wyden, D-OR, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Bernie Sanders, I-VT — sent a letter to President Joe Biden, pushing for future legislation with more aid. A key difference: They say that stimulus should be in the form of recurring direct payments to Americans until the pandemic is over, rather than a single payment. The letter did not specify how big the checks should be or who might qualify for them.

"We urge you to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in your Build Back Better long-term economic plan," the March 2 letter said.

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Further details of the plan are expected to trickle out as Biden's advisors plan to present the proposal, worth as much as $3 trillion, to the president this week, The New York Times reports.

"Families shouldn't have to worry about whether they'll have enough money to pay for essentials in the months ahead as the country continues to fight a global pandemic," the senators wrote. "Almost 6 in 10 people say the $1,400 payments set to be included in the rescue package will last them less than three months."

The White House has not publicly commented on the group's proposal. In January, though, Biden said his Build Back Better Recovery Plan "will make historic investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, innovation, research and development, and clean energy. Investments in the caregiving economy and in skills and training needed by our workers to compete and win the global economy of the future." He didn't make any reference to more direct stimulus payments.

Make the most of your third stimulus check

Given the political situation, it's smart to make the most of your third stimulus check as if no more aid will be forthcoming, experts say.

Prioritize the essentials first, such as outstanding bills and an emergency fund, Mark La Spisa, a certified financial planner and president of Vermillion Financial Advisors, tells Grow. "Bottom line: You can't spend money that you can't count on. Keep as much as you can set aside because you don't know when you'll need it."

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Suze Orman on how to use a second stimulus check

Video by Helen Zhao

If you have debt, you shouldn't use your stimulus check to pay it off, says financial expert Suze Orman, bestselling author of "Women & Money" and the host of the "Women & Money" podcast. "You don't take this and pay down bills like credit card debt," she says. "Continue to pay the minimum payment due." Then, take whatever is leftover and stash as much of it as possible in an online savings account, she says.

Americans won't feel a sense of financial security until they have more money stashed away, Earle says. "Sure, those [$1,400 third] payments will still stop some gaps, pay some bills, and buy some entertainment. But the financial health of many Americans — even before the lockdowns — was in awful shape," he says. "To procure meaningful, long-lasting financial security will at the very least require increasing incentives to save, which goes far beyond mailing out government checks."

Grow writer Gili Malinsky contributed reporting.

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