Americans call slimmed down $600 stimulus checks a 'disgrace' but better than nothing

News that a second round of stimulus checks might be included in a new coronavirus aid bill has been met with a mixture of relief and derision by many cash-strapped Americans who have been without work throughout the pandemic.

Though checks were not part of the original draft of the bipartisan relief bill unveiled Monday, lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sander (I-VT) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) pushed colleagues to include them. The checks will reportedly be worth between $600 and $700 for each taxpayer and their dependents, though Hawley unsuccessfully forced a vote on $1,200 checks on Friday.

The first round of checks, which were distributed earlier this year, were worth $1,200 for individuals earning under $75,000 a year, and $500 for dependents under the age of 17.

Laney Oden, 32, says the $600 check is better than nothing. Oden lost her job of 11 years at a restaurant in California when coronavirus hit in March. She says her long-term unemployment benefits are about to expire, and any bit of aid would help her pay her bills.

"The $600 would do great for now, but some will have to spend that already before it even hits their bank account," says Oden. "I think a little more would be appropriate, but we will take anything at this rate."

Others, though, expressed frustration that the checks are worth essentially half of their previous amount.

Emily May, 27, lost her job at a restaurant in New York City in March. She's relied on unemployment checks to keep her head above water on her bills, including approximately $600 per month in private student loan payments.

While the first round of stimulus checks were sent to eligible taxpayers regardless of whether they had lost their jobs, May says this time around, larger checks should be sent to those who need the money, including the unemployed and small business owners.

"This is a traumatic time for many families," says May. "I don't think it's right to send $600 payments to everyone including the employed, when those who are unemployed are suffering immensely. At the very least, $1,200 is a great way to aid those who are actually hurting."

The bill lawmakers are negotiating also extends unemployment insurance (UI) for gig workers and the long-term unemployed, who were set to lose their UI the day after Christmas. It also provides for an extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits through April 19, 2021.

Still, after nearly nine months of economic stagnation, millions of Americans are months behind on their housing payments and other bills. Many "wiped out their savings" or "took massive pay cuts and won't be eligible for any sort of reimbursement for lost wages," says Joe C., 24, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy. A larger check would help make up some of the deficit many households are facing, says the Tennessee resident.

"I am also worried about people close to me, many of whom are only able to get part-time work and one car problem or sick day could be devastating," he says.

Faith Crockett, 27, calls the $600 checks "a disgrace." She says regardless of political party, supporting their fellow Americans should be every politician's priority, particularly during a pandemic when many people have lost income through no fault of their own.

"Above all else, it shows us in our darkest moments, our political leaders show no compassion and give us little hope," she says.

LeeAnn Luciano-Lecara, 52, agrees. She's been looking for a job she can do from home since March, when she quit the job she held at a grocery store for nine years because she is immunocompromised.

Though the Connecticut resident was "grateful" for the first stimulus check, which helped her pay for her electric bill and groceries, she wishes that Democrats and Republicans could work together to get more aid to Americans. She finds arguments against providing more aid because of the increasing federal deficit unpersuasive and believes the checks should be larger.

"The Democrats and the Republicans have had no problem charging up the deficit in the past … so why stop now," she says. "There is a virus that is raging, killing families, placing emotional and financial strain on everyone."

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