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'Life-Changing' Stimulus Checks Begin Rolling Out

President Biden signs the American Rescue Plan Thursday in the Oval Office. The $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden signs the American Rescue Plan Thursday in the Oval Office. The $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.

When Mike Phelps moved from Detroit to western Kentucky in 2019, he brought his small business, GenDrop, with him.

rents out generator power for concerts and music festivals. Phelps had already powered nearly 100 special events throughout Michigan, and he hoped to do the same in his new state. But when the pandemic hit, and shows were canceled all over the world, Phelps began bleeding money.

"Emails started coming in one after the other about canceling previously confirmed 2020 summer and fall dates," Phelps told NPR. "I realized quite quickly that the entertainment industry was in major trouble."

Phelps got a loan from the Small Business Administration, but it was far too small to make a difference. Now he plans to use his $1,400 stimulus check to help keep GenDrop afloat until business picks up. His wife Ashley, a registered nurse "who is singlehandedly carrying our household," will use her check to pay off credit card debt.

"It's unfortunate, but you know you're in trouble when you're looking in your closet and see paper towels you bought on your credit card," Phelps said. "We will be paying interest for those paper towels long after they've been thrown away."

Phelps is from one of the 80% to 90% of households expected to receive a stimulus payment from the government. And to the delight of many, that money is coming sooner than anticipated.

Since only a day after President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, people around the country have reported seeing deposits pending in their bank accounts. That money is expected to be made available as soon as Wednesday.

Most individuals can expect to receive up to $1,400, couples up to $2,800, and those with children and adult dependents can expect $1,400 for each one.

Payments start tapering off for individuals making $75,000 per year, or married couples making $150,000. And unlike the earlier stimulus checks, the maximum cutoff is lower: Individuals no longer qualify once they make $80,000 a year ($160,000 for couples).

According to the U.S. Treasury, payments to eligible Americans will continue through the next several weeks on a rolling basis. Most people who are eligible will automatically receive those payments — no action required. The IRS says it will automatically calculate the amount that people receive, based on their latest processed tax return.

There are as many plans for the $1,400 stimulus checks as there are people who will receive them. For Cailin Rawlins, the money can't come soon enough. She and her fiancé had made plans to move into a new place in late March — and then calamity struck.

"I lost my job due to health reasons last month," she told NPR. "The timing of this check is life-changing for us." The money will go toward their car payment, groceries, and renting a moving truck.

Chelsea Powell from New Jersey plans to pay off a collections account on her credit report, and replace her 9-year-old laptop with something a bit more modern. She's still employed full time, but when the pandemic hit and hurt restaurants and bars, she lost her second job as a bartender.

"At times I've wished that I lived in Canada or somewhere else providing better support to its citizens, but I'm still thankful to live in the USA," she said.

Payments will go out in batches. The first batch will go to taxpayers who provided direct deposit information on their 2019 or 2020 tax returns. That will be followed by a second batch to taxpayers for whom the IRS already has payment info. For them, the payments could come in the form of checks or prepaid debit cards in the mail.

People who receive Social Security or other federal benefits will receive the payment in the same way as their regular benefits. The IRS has not yet announced a payment date for this group, but says it will do so shortly.

The Treasury says it will provide more information in the coming days for people who don't have a bank account, or whose address has recently changed. People will soon be able to check the status of their stimulus check at the IRS website.

For Phelps of GenDrop, the deposit is already "pending" in his bank account, and should be available within days.

"Honestly it is a glass of water being thrown on an erupting volcano for us," he said. "But we are glad to be able to pour any water on it whatsoever."

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Matthew S. Schwartz
Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
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