A fourth stimulus check? Don’t count on it
Roughly $1.9 trillion in fresh stimulus money is currently making its way through the system and to most Americans. But as the economic damage from the pandemic is still being repaired, could Congress send more stimulus checks?
Put simply, it’s unlikely. The consensus among economists points to this crisis soon nearing its conclusion, while the passage of the latest relief package and the vaccine rollout could even result in strong economic growth. That’s what Goldman Sachs is seeing, forecasting a staggering 8% GDP gain in 2021—what could be one of the highest years on record for the U.S., according to the Word Bank. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also argues the country could reach “full employment” by 2022, and there is even a slight chance the U.S. economy could outgrow China this year.
Meanwhile, economists who spoke with Fortune see the potential for more big spending packages—but they likely wouldn’t include any more direct payments.
For one, Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi expects the Biden Administration to “propose another two fiscal packages later this year, the first being a large infrastructure program and the second expanding a range of social benefits including healthcare, housing, education, child and elder care,” he told Fortune via email. “These packages will be designed to address long-term economic problems such as infrastructure, climate change and the skewed income and wealth distribution,” he says, but “I wouldn’t consider these packages as fiscal stimulus, designed to support the economy in the short-term.”
In that sense, “I don’t think there will be a fourth round of stimulus checks,” argues Zandi.
To date Congress has sent three stimulus checks to most Americans: a $1,200 check in April 2020, $600 in December, and is in the process of delivering $1,400 payments. Now, President Joe Biden is preparing other massive spending proposals, this time focusing on infrastructure and human development projects, expected to cost around $3 trillion when all is said and done.
Still, at present unemployment remains very high, at 6.2% for February (some economists argue it’s even higher when adjusted for the loss of labor force participation), while poverty in the U.S. is also still elevated.
Those like Brett Ryan, Deutsche Bank’s senior U.S. economist, note the new spending may include elements like job retraining and education that should provide some support as the labor force is recovering, as “there’s going to be some permanent changes” to the market, he suggests.
“I would say that this is definitely going to be less about direct income support—which the latest $1.9 trillion plan kind of gets you through this transition period where the economy’s reopening—and more about, as Biden said, building back better,” Ryan tells Fortune. The latest $1.9 trillion aid bill is “gonna be the last on that front,” he argues. “No more checks.”
As far as Democratic leadership goes, an aide for Sen. Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told Fortune the senator supports “additional relief checks tied to economic conditions.” Wyden signed a letter along with 10 Democratic colleagues back in early March calling for future “recurring direct payments” to be tied to the state of the economy. That suggests if the recovery falls short of expectations, Democrats could push for another round of direct payments.