Americans say more cash in their pockets isn’t only going to help their own financial situations—it’s going to help bolster the economy.
A new survey by YouGov for Forbes Advisor asked Americans what type of aid would help both their own personal finances and the economy endure the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Nearly half of respondents are in favor of a one-time payment of $2,000 per family member—much more than any other proposed form of relief, including mortgage and rent payment relief, student loan forgiveness and unemployment benefits.
However, experts aren’t sure that stimulus checks are the most effective way to boost the economy.
Americans Are Clear: They Want Direct Cash In Their Pockets
When asked about the various forms of aid being floated around lawmakers in D.C., the results are clear: Americans want cash put directly into their pockets.
Forty-six percent of respondents think a one-time payment of $2,000 per family member will best bolster their own personal finances, more than any other option presented. That dovetails what Americans think would also help bolster the U.S. economy; 39% of respondents said a one-time payment of $2,000 per family member will help prop up the economy while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The results are similar to those of a previous survey by YouGov and Forbes Advisor in June 2020, where more than one-third (36%) of respondents favored $2,000 monthly checks for at least six months or up to a year.
The new survey’s findings aren’t surprising, given the popularity of stimulus checks overall. In a December 2020 poll from Vox and Data For Progress, 75% of poll respondents said they wanted stimulus checks prioritized in another package. However, it’s surprising that so many Americans would choose a one-time payment of considerably lower value and with shorter-term benefits than some of the other options that were presented in the YouGov survey, such as $50,000 in student loan forgiveness.
For example, only 16% of respondents favor canceling rent and mortgage payments for one year, even though the real-life cost savings of a proposal like this could run into tens of thousands of dollars for millions of Americans.
Democrats have been pushing for rent and mortgage payment cancelation since they introduced the HEROES Act last May. The current federal eviction moratorium has halted evictions for people who can’t pay rent, but renters still owe those payments; and many are accumulating thousands of dollars in past due rent that they’ll have to repay when the moratorium ends.
To date, the federal government has implemented an eviction moratorium (now extended through at least March 31) and provided $25 billion to cover back rent and utility payments. Some analysts, including Moody’s Analytics, say these forms of aid covered just the tip of the iceberg—and more needs to be done. Biden’s newly introduced $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal would allocate another $25 billion for rental and utility assistance for low- and moderate-income households.
A little more than one-tenth (11%) of Americans said forgiving up to $50,000 in student loan debt would bolster their personal finances. The YouGov survey did not gauge how many respondents hold student loan debt; in 2019, however, 44.7 million borrowers held student loan debt, with an average loan balance amount of $32,731. The debate around student loan debt cancelation has strengthened since President Biden’s election; he supports at least $10,000 in student loan cancellation, but that provision was left out of his stimulus proposal.
What’s Needed to Help Bolster the Economy?
Respondents also believe that a $2,000 direct payment would help the economy. Thirty-nine percent of respondents stated a one-time payment of $2,000 per family member would best bolster the U.S. economy.
Other forms of aid, like canceling rent, forgiving up to $50,000 in student loan debt or increasing additional unemployment payments to $600 per month, were much less popular. Eight percent of respondents do not think further stimulus is needed to help the economy.
Though direct payments could be helpful on an individual level, that’s starkly different from what economists and analysts say will be the most beneficial for the economy as it continues to weather the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic brought on the sharpest and deepest economic contractionsince the Great Depression.
The December jobs report revealed the current unemployment rate is 6.7%, and the economy has 10 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic began almost a year ago. Though the economy has shown slight rebounds since the peak of its decline last spring, the recovery is only benefitting middle- to high-wage earners, and is notably leaving behind low-income workers, women and Black and Hispanic Americans.
Fixing these issues extends beyond just providing one-time payments of $2,000, according to a post by William G. Gale and Grace Enda, senior fellow and research assistant, respectively, at The Brookings Institute.
Gale and Enda write that providing aid to state and local governments, as well as expanding the “generosity and time frame for targeted relief,” such as unemployment insurance and rental assistance, is what’s going to help the economy weather the Covid-19 storm. They also argue that the previous stimulus packages provided relief in efforts to keep people at home and curb the spread of the virus, rather than actual stimulus, which would raise economic activity.
Stimulus checks, for example, are one-time payments. The pandemic has now stretched over a year. To provide long-term relief, write Gale and Edna, the federal government should increase resources for the social safety net by increasing tax credits and assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Funds to firms to help preserve jobs, and expanded unemployment insurance, also would be helpful.
“Investments in the social safety net not only help people in the short-term, but often provide long-term benefits back to the economy that exceed the initial costs,” according to the authors.
Biden May Change Income Thresholds for Next Round of Stimulus Checks
Biden supports another round of stimulus checks, but it remains unclear who would receive them if they’re passed into law with the next stimulus package.
Biden said he is open to negotiating the income thresholds on stimulus payments. Previous stimulus packages granted the full stimulus payment amount to individuals with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) up to $75,000, and married couples with AGIs up to $150,000. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) argue that lowering the income thresholds would better target the payments to Americans in the most need—and lower the overall cost of the stimulus package.
However, this may alienate Americans who received previous stimulus checks but find that under new income restrictions, they no longer qualify.
There’s still significant work to be done before the next stimulus package is signed into law. The U.S. House of Representatives is planning to introduce and vote on a stimulus bill the first week of February. Even if it successfully passes the House, it would have to be voted and approved by the Senate. Republican lawmakers are already hesitant to support Biden’s stimulus package, citing its large price tag as a hazard sign, as reported by Reuters.
Biden has said multiple times that he would prefer to reach bipartisan agreement on the bill but he has a trick up his sleeve to make progress if he can’t get enough Republican or moderate Democratic support: Budget reconciliation.
The process of budget reconciliation makes passing budget legislation easier in the Senate; only a simple majority of 51 votes will be required, as opposed to the standard 60-vote majority with regular legislation. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats—and Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the tie breaker.
YouGov polled 1,200 US adults. The survey was conducted on January 23, 2021. The survey was carried out through YouGov Direct. Data is weighted on age, gender, education level, political affiliation and ethnicity to be nationally representative of adults in the United States. The margin of error is approximately 4.0% for the overall sample.