Daniel Jester, his wife and his four young kids have established a new tradition during the coronavirus pandemic: hanging laundry on a series of clothes lines he strung up behind their Riverside home.
It’s not a quest to return to simpler times. It’s a necessity after their dryer broke several months ago. And since Jester was laid off in April from his full-time job as a production director for a studio in Los Angeles, money has been too tight to buy a new one.
If Congress and President Donald Trump settle for stimulus payments of $600 for qualified individuals – as it seems they will, at least for the time being – the Jesters’ clothesline tradition will be the first thing to go.
If payments jump to $2,000 – as Democrats, including President-Elect Joe Biden, plus Trump and some other Republican leaders have demanded – Jester said they should also be able to spring for a new stove since their current one started to take a dive and is much harder to get by without.
Families across Southern California have drafted, rearranged and in some cases given up on similar wish lists, as they’ve waited nine months for federal leaders to agree on a second round of checks to help them get by during the coronavirus pandemic.
For them, these debates over whether they should get help and how much and when don’t just feel like they’re happening 3,000 miles away. They feel like they’re happening in an alternate reality.
“We’re playing a lot of games when people have a real need,” Jester said.
Left in limbo
The limbo started in May, when the Democrat-led House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act. The bill included $1,200 payments for anyone making less than $75,000 a year, just as Congress had agreed to in March. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a floor vote on the HEROES Act, with many Republicans citing concerns over the ballooning federal deficit and other items included in the bill.
Negotiations stalled along party lines for months. Then, just in time for Christmas, the House and Senate agreed on a $900 billion relief bill that included $600 payments for qualifying adults and their dependents. That triggered some sighs of relief along with many viral memes about how rich folks in Congress think $600 is a lot of money to everyday Americans.
But Trump last week refused to sign the bill, demanding that payments be increased to $2,000 and other changes made. With unemployment benefits running out and the federal government on the verge of a shutdown since the relief package was linked to a spending bill, the president agreed late Sunday to approve the package, while directing Congress to still consider changes he requested. So the House voted Monday to increase individual payments to $2,000, only to see McConnell on Tuesday and Wednesday again refuse to let the Senate vote on the matter.
There are still a couple unlikely shots at $2,000 payments left. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., said he’ll hold up other Senate action until McConnell agrees to a floor vote on the increased payments. And McConnell pitched a bill that bundled increased payments with Trump’s other unrelated demands, which will likely make that effort DOA with Democrats.
The dynamic could change in coming weeks, as new Congress members and Biden are sworn in, and with the potential for Democrats to take control of the Senate based on results of Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff election.
In the meantime, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the approved $600 payments could start showing up in people’s bank accounts within the next few days.
Making ends meet
“Pay my $600 Edison bill that I’m behind on.” “Pay off all or part of the vet bill I had to put on plastic.” “Will be applied to the rent I don’t know how I’m going to afford.”
For a majority of the more than 100 people who responded to a Southern California News Group inquiry on social media, there’s no fun wish list in mind for any stimulus money that may come their way.
“Far too many people don’t grasp what is happening to their neighbors,” said Leslie Kaufman, 57, of Van Nuys.
A year ago, Kaufman was thriving as an independent contractor. But after the pandemic hit, her work evaporated. She canceled subscriptions to streaming services, stopped paying for internet and even canceled her health insurance. Still, she’s struggling to stay afloat.
If Kaufman gets a $600 payment, she said, “I might choose food, as survival depends on it. But seeing a dentist before I die of an infected jawbone is a temptation.” If she gets $2,000? “I would do both and just maybe do all the dental work that is on delay, allowing me to actually chew.”
Jenna Feindel, 35, is a U.S. Postal Service carrier in Lake Elsinore. Her husband has lost work due to the pandemic, which hit right after they’d taken on credit card debt to move from New Hampshire. Feindel deferred student loans as her household income dropped. And she’s still trying to figure out how to pay a dentist bill, since the credit card she planned to use is maxed out.
That’s why she got frustrated when she saw a comment Monday from Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, saying he opposed $2,000 checks because it would go toward people “paying down credit card debt.”
“I don’t know why these people would view paying down credit card debt as a poor use of that resource,” Feindel said. “It’s all groceries, dental and car repairs on my credit cards.”
Giving back and finding joy
Some Southern Californians who haven’t suffered major hardships during the pandemic said they plan to squirrel away any money that comes – a reality some politicians and others have cited in pushing back on individual payments, since it doesn’t offer any immediate boost to the economy.
The bigger the payment, of course, the more likely it becomes that people will save at least a portion of it, said Anil Puri, an economics professor at Cal State Fullerton. That could be an argument for offering smaller but more frequent payments, if stimulating the economy is the main goal. But either way, Puri said research shows a majority of people in the targeted income brackets tend to spend most of the money they get, which has positive ripple effects for the economy at large.
Vanessa Lauren of Long Beach said she plans to give the money to a friend who’s undocumented, since Republicans shut down a Democratic proposal to let non-citizens who pay taxes get stimulus support.
When Jason Calizar of Torrance and his family got a first round of stimulus payments, he said it all went to charity, with most going to local food banks. The same will happen this round, he said, whether it’s $600 or $2,000.
Steve Kim, 45, of Long Beach is a draftsman at a local architecture firm. He plans to save some of the stimulus money, but said part of it will go to supporting local restaurants, including a new sushi joint he hopes to see stick around.
Others with secure incomes plan to use the money to find a bit of joy in these trying times, such as 31-year-old Irvine resident Zach Paul’s plans to buy a PS5 gaming system. “Just being honest,” he said.
But when Paul saw single mom Amy Kaplan post on Twitter that she’d never received any stimulus, he immediately offered to give this person he never met $100 once his check arrives.
Kaplan, 38 of San Juan Capistrano, started marking her own wish list when the first round of $1,200 stimulus checks was approved in late March.
She figured she’d easily qualify for a $1,200 stimulus payment for herself plus another $500 payment for her 14-year-old son, since she makes around $30,000 a year working fulltime as a sports journalist. So Kaplan made plans to use the extra money on new mattresses and to buy golf lessons and gear for her son, who wanted to join the team as he started high school.
Instead, Kaplan is among the many Southern Californians who so far have been left out of the stimulus pool altogether.
Some residents who suffered major income losses since lockdowns started got nothing because, according to their 2019 tax returns, they made more than the qualifying $75,000 income cap. Those folks should be able to claw that money back in the form of a credit when they file their 2020 tax returns.
Other residents, such as Kaplan, qualified for a stimulus payment but still haven’t gotten paid.
When Kaplan filed her 2019 tax returns in February, expecting to get a solid return, she instead was flagged for an audit. She assumes it was random, since she filed a simple return with no changes from the prior year. The Internal Revenue Service told her it could take three months to review her case. Then pandemic lockdowns began, which pushed her tax return review further down the line.
Since the IRS hadn’t verified her 2019 income, the agency told her this summer that she’d also have to wait for her first stimulus payment. She still hasn’t received her tax return or the first $1,700 stimulus payment owed to her.
“I’m just sort of at their mercy,” Kaplan said. “It’s the government. I can’t ask to speak to the manager.”
This time, she’s not even letting herself think about how she’d spend any stimulus payments Congress settles on.
“I just want them to do their best to make sure that if it passes, whatever dollar amount it is, that it gets to the people that actually need it.”
Source: Orange County Register