Is a second stimulus check on the way? Here's where the HEROES Act stands

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This week, another 2.1 million people filed for unemployment benefits. All told, at least 40 million people are out of work since the start of the pandemic and are getting by on some combination of unemployment benefits, their savings, and the $1,200 stimulus check sent out as a part of an earlier $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

In aggregate, American workers have lost $1.3 trillion in income, an average of $8,900 per worker, according to new research from the Society for Human Resource Management and Oxford Economics. That loss has many households stretched thin and wondering when, or if, more financial help will come.

Although some legislation is on the table, experts say an additional round of stimulus checks is far from a sure thing.

Where the HEROES Act stands

On May 15, House Democrats passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion bill that would provide more relief to businesses and households. The proposal, if it were to become law, would include a second wave of stimulus checks — or economic impact payments — that could provide as much as $6,000 for some households. It would also extend the additional $600 per-week expanded unemployment benefit until 2021.

But since its passage in the House weeks ago, the bill has hit a wall. Conservative lawmakers in the Senate, and officials in the White House, have said that they won't support the legislation in its current form. Republican leaders have, however, said that they would start looking at options for more stimulus measures in the coming weeks. Some Republicans have also floated the idea of a "return-to-work bonus" of up to $450 per week.

The provision offering unemployed workers an extra $600 per week is currently set to expire at the end of July. The HEROES Act proposal to extend benefits through January 2021 is facing vocal opposition by Republican leadership and President Trump. They worry that extending the augmented unemployment benefits will keep people out of the workforce longer than necessary. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell laid out his objections to the extension of enhanced unemployment benefits and said whatever bill passes would not include it.

McConnell's priorities also include increased liability protections for physicians and businesses operating during the pandemic, which are not addressed by the HEROES Act.

How to spend a stimulus check if you're employed

Video by Jason Armesto

Republicans are voicing concerns about the price tag of the legislation in general, though some Republicans in the Senate are signaling support for more stimulus checks specifically.

"We're in a very unfortunate situation in which this crucial aid for the economy has become politicized," says Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute. But, she says, "the situation is so dire" that she expects the two sides will eventually come together to pass legislation — be it a version of the HEROES Act or something else.

With an election coming up in November, politicians on both sides of the aisle are trying to find ways to appeal to voters while also making sure that the economy doesn't suffer any more than it already has. "The implications of the response [including stimulus measures] will undoubtedly be fodder for the coming presidential election as well as for further debate in the years to come," Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, said in a statement.

'I assume that some sort of stimulus package will be passed'

Many Americans are supportive of more stimulus measures, including additional stimulus payments. Twice as many voters support The HEROES Act (44%) than oppose it (21%), according to a recent survey from progressive think tank Data For Progress. The remaining 35% say they "don't know."

So, with voters supportive of more stimulus bills like the HEROES Act, experts say it's likely a matter of when, not if, an additional package is signed into law.

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Video by David Fang

It may be some time before that happens, as Republican leadership in the Senate hasn't said whether they even plan to bring the HEROES Act up for a vote. 

Still, some members, including Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, have urged action. "It's unfathomable that the Senate is set to go on recess without considering any additional #COVID19 assistance for the American people," Gardner tweeted on May 20.

Senate leaders may end up deciding either to vote on the HEROES Act or to come up with their own legislation. Millions of Americans, in the meantime, will have to wait. The good news, though, is that experts do expect some additional help will come at some point.

"I assume that some sort of stimulus package will be passed," says Shierholz. "Every dollar spent now helps avert sustained high unemployment that'll do far more damage."

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