Were you expecting a fourth stimulus check? Turns out, the chances of getting one are low to nonexistent. "I feel confident saying they're 0 percent—it's just not going to happen," says Lisa Rowan, consumer finance expert at Forbes Advisor. While some states (New Mexico, California, New York, Maryland, and Colorado) have sent or are sending stimulus checks to residents who qualify, another round of federal stimulus checks is not likely to happen. Rowan says a stabilizing economy and mass vaccine rollouts have decreased the need for a fourth stimulus check. "It's just not necessary like it was last year and in spring 2021," she says.
However, there are other programs still in place to provide financial relief to those that need it. "Part of the reason lawmakers are less focused on a fourth stimulus payment is because there are other programs in place to support people who are still struggling due to the pandemic," says Rowan. For example, you could still receive unemployment benefits from your state, though the federal benefits have ended.
"States are allowed to use federal aid money to extend unemployment benefits," says Rowan. "You may still be able to get some benefits from your state, even if you already exhausted your eligible weeks of payments."
Though the economy has started to recover, many Americans continue to struggle with the financial impact of the pandemic—and applying for some of these programs, such as rental or food assistance or unemployment, can be challenging, adds Rowan. She suggests contacting your local COVID response hotline or website for resources in your state and city for help navigating the application process.
Here are some of the programs offering financial help for those affected by the pandemic.
Expanded Child Tax Credit
This year's child tax credit was expanded under the American Rescue Plan in an effort to offer families more direct aid. The increased payment allows eligible parents and caregivers to receive up to $3,000 annually for each child under 18 ($3,600 if they're under six), and to get half that amount paid out in monthly payments from July to December.
"This is one of the main contributors to the lack of discussion in Congress around a fourth stimulus check," says Rowan. "The expanded CTC is already showing signs that it will do a lot to reduce poverty by providing reliable income for eligible families, but it's unclear whether it will get extended beyond this year," she adds.
If passed, the controversial $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill proposed by House Democrats based on President Biden's Build Back Better Act could further support families. The Build Back Better Act aims to fund things such as free community college, expanded Medicare coverage, child care assistance, and extend the child tax credit payments to 2025.
"Families across the country overwhelmingly support Congress making meaningful investments in childcare and other programs that support parents, kids, and care workers," says Nicole Rodgers, executive director of Family Story, an organization that conducts research and advocates for support and equity for families. A poll conducted by Family Story found that 80 percent of the 800 adults who took the survey supported child care subsidies, paid family and medical leave, and universal pre-K. "It's good for the economy by letting parents get back to work, it benefits all families by giving them real choices when it comes to care, and it just so happens to be the right thing to do," says Rodgers.
Student Loan Relief
Got student loans? Well, you don't have to worry about making those payments until 2022. In August, the Department of Education announced another, final, extension for student loan payments. Payments have been paused until January 31, 2022 with 0 percent interest, and collections on defaulted loans are also suspended until then.
"The student loan forbearance only applies to federal student loans, though some holders of private student loans may be able to find other relief options by contacting their lender," says Minesh Patel, attorney and CEO of The Patel Firm. Patel says that while the forbearance does extend the life of your loan, the amount won't grow since you will not be accruing interest in the meantime. Visit StudentAid.gov for more information.
SNAP Food Assistance Benefits
Food insecurity rose to almost 15 percent (from 13.6 percent in 2019) for households with children during the pandemic last year according to data from the USDA. While numbers have improved slightly this year, a brief by Feeding America reports that food insecurity levels are still high this year compared to pre-pandemic times. But the good news is that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program or food stamps) benefits have permanently increased.
"This was not a pandemic response, as a review of allowances led to the increase, but in addition to the higher benefit amounts, recipients are still getting a pandemic boost to benefits," says Rowan. Right now, there are emergency allotments in place for SNAP benefits with no set date for when they might expire, giving qualifying individuals $251 per month. After the emergency allotments expire, the average benefits will be about $169 per month for each person—it would have been $133 without the permanent increase.