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Stimulus check 2: Will we see it happen this fall?

Nancy Pelosi in front of draped American flag.
(Image credit: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) in Brussels in February 2019.)

As Democratic and Republican lawmakers return to Washington in the coming weeks, they'll face an ongoing stalemate in stimulus-package negotiations and a few alternative proposals to consider.

Here's a rundown of where things stand right now, and what has to happen next for Americans to receive stimulus check 2 or other coronavirus-relief benefits.

Where do the negotiations stand? 

Democratic negotiators, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), and Republicans, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, have not held formal talks about a second round of stimulus spending since early August. However, Pelosi has spoken by phone with both Mnuchin and Meadows in the past week. 

Two sticking points preventing a consensus are the overall cost of a second stimulus-relief bill and the plan for resuming the federal unemployment-benefit supplements that ended July 31. 

The Democrats' HEROES Act, passed by the House in May, put spending at about $3.4 trillion, though Pelosi has said recently that she's willing to come down to $2.2 trillion. That's roughly the cost of the CARES Act that provided the first round of stimulus spending back in March.

In late July, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and the White House proposed the HEALS Act, which would cost $1.1 trillion. Since then, President Donald Trump has indicated he would sign a $1.3 trillion bill

Just this past Tuesday, Mnuchin told a House committee that the administration's acceptable number had gone up to $1.5 trillion. But that still leaves a $700 billion gap in overall spending. 

For the federal unemployment-benefits supplements, Democrats want to resume them at the same $600-per-week level set by the CARES Act, for the foreseeable future. Republicans have pitched various plans for reducing the benefits to $300-$400 per week and then phasing them out over several months. 

Meanwhile, President Trump issued an executive order providing a temporary $300 weekly supplement to be drawn out of FEMA's emergency-relief budget, which most states have applied for and some are already distributing.  

What has been proposed so far? 

Both the House and the Senate have formal proposals on the table for a second stimulus package, and both include stimulus check 2. 

The House's HEROES Act would send $1,200 checks to individuals making up to $75,000 per year (if single) and $150,000 per year (if married), with prorated benefits to those earning up to $99,000 and $198,000, respectively. 

The bill would also expand dependent benefits beyond what was provided in March's CARES Act, sending $1,200 to college students, adults with disabilities and any other claimed dependents for up to $6,000 per family. 

The Senate's HEALS Act offers identical payments to individuals but would provide only $500 per dependent of any age, with no cap per family. Another bill put forward by a group of Senate Republicans would provide $1,000 per individual at a lower income cap plus $1,000 per claimed dependent. 

There are also two "skinny" bills — one in each chamber — that may soon be formally introduced. Both would restart federal unemployment-benefit supplements but also leave out stimulus check 2. Politico reports that the Senate GOP's "skinny" proposal is expected to offer $300 per week in federal unemployment supplements through the end of the year. 

What happens next?

Senators will be back in session on Sept. 8. The House will also return from recess after Labor Day for committee hearings, but not resume full-chamber votes until the following week. 

There's no clear timeline for when lawmakers could vote on additional stimulus-spending legislation, given the stall in negotiations and the possibility that newer "skinny" proposals will not have enough support to pass. 

In fact, the slimmed-down bills may be largely symbolic, meant more to demonstrate lawmakers' concern for voters' well-being ahead of the election than to provide meaningful relief. That said, some lawmakers are putting pressure on their leaders to push forward with a deal in the immediate future. 

If a bill containing stimulus check 2 were to move forward (an unlikely scenario at this point), the government could reportedly get payments sent out within a week or two. 

Pelosi and Mnuchin agree to avoid shutdown

Another federal funding issue is looming alongside the stimulus stall. Without a 2021 budget to keep agencies up and running, the government would normally shut down at the end of September. 

But Politico reports that Pelosi and Mnuchin have agreed to keep the government running after Sept. 30, and to keep the negotiations over the second stimulus package separate from federal budget talks. 

While there are no details yet on how government funding will play out, there's hope that essential federal services will continue even if lawmakers cannot reach a consensus on additional stimulus spending.