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"Not enough by far": 6 people react to Congress's slimmed-down $600 stimulus checks

Looking solely at the total amount of coronavirus cases and fatalities in the United States so far, the numbers are difficult to sit with: over 17 million cases, nearly 311,000 deaths. But even that doesn't fully quantify the pandemic's harms. There's also the estimated $7.2 billion owed in back-rent, the 54 million people facing food insecurity.

In March, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to help address some of the pandemic's reverberations. The relief package included a $1,200 stimulus check that, while welcome in some respects, many critiqued for not actually being enough to help. After all, rent alone in many U.S. cities can easily exceed $1,000. That doesn't account for the cost of transportation, food, utilities, internet, and other necessities. And it is hard to applaud a one-time check when other countries, like Canada, have implemented reoccurring stimulus payments.

For months, people nationwide have waited as Congress debated passing a second coronavirus relief package. Finally, over the weekend, congressional leaders agreed on a $908 billion bipartisan package, complete with a last-minute addition of another round of direct payments to Americans. This time around, however, the checks amount to only $600 per person, if they make $75,000 or less annually.

Even if this bill passes, it would mean the federal government has provided less than $2,000 in aid per person for a pandemic that's stretched nine months and counting. Mic spoke with six people about their initial reactions to the $600 stimulus. For some, the slim figure has induced horror and concerns about what $600 can even do to offset the pandemic's harm. And when it came to their ideal relief package, each of them dreamed far beyond one-time payments.

Oluwatimah, Wisconsin

I live in Wisconsin and I currently work as an assistant midwife and CNA. I do a lot of advocacy work surrounding Black communities and reproductive justice.

Frankly my initial reaction to the $600 stimulus was excitement. I had eventually came to the conclusion we were not receiving anything again. My next reaction was one of a bit of disappointment. I would have thought that after everything, we would have received what we got previously. After all, the pandemic is worse since then. I expected nothing but was still sort of let down.

Initially, the pandemic cut my hours and I was greatly financially impacted. As time went on, I was able to pick up more hours so I do acknowledge that I got off much easier than many others. The downside was that as a result of working more in health care, I was also more at risk. I did often feel that I had to choose between rent and my health. At times, I had to take time off after being exposed to coronavirus, and that also was hard financially.

I won't lie and say that $600 won't provide some help. Times are still really tight, so $600 can still provide some rent relief. However, it can only go so far and would more than likely only last for a month or less. We have seen that the pandemic has lasted significantly longer than that. I would certainly be giving people more than $600.

I am of the opinion that all health care, sanitation, and essential workers should be compensated. I would like to implement forgiveness of medical bills. I think people should not have to worry anymore about a lot of pandemic-related costs. Many people got sick and as a result lost work and subsequently up to two weeks of pay. There also needs to be a freeze in rent payments. It's a snowball effect: If you have people worried that they're going to be evicted, then they're going to continue working regardless of their coronavirus test results. So the pandemic rages on when cases could be drastically lower if working-class people actually had the option of staying home. But as of now, everything is a hard decision on the best case of survival for one and their family. That is no way to live, especially in the supposed wealthiest country in the world.

Marginalized communities are at a specific disadvantage, too. We have to work to provide and oftentimes our jobs are with other people, so social distancing is extremely complicated, if not downright impossible. There's a whole added layer of oppression when you look at racial bias within the hospital. So then these communities have an added problem of possibly receiving negligent treatment. Frankly, it's not something any singular stimulus check can fix. There's decades of racial disparities, oppression, and abuse of the working-class that has to be addressed.

Shabana Mir, Chicago

A $600 stimulus check is not enough by far. It should be $2,000 at least and it should have paralleled the Canadian $2,000 for every month during the pandemic. Any less is a joke.

In my household, we have jobs, and we are okay. However, if we lost our jobs, or if we had car issues, or if I had health issues again, we would lose our home and don't have savings for a year. I'm a two-time cancer survivor, and my job is non-tenured. I'm very aware of how quickly finances can spiral down. But in this country, we always compare ourselves to the worst that can happen, so I said, "We are okay."

My ideal relief package would include extended and enhanced unemployment. Monthly direct payments, $2,000 per month, plus $600 per child (should have started in April at the latest). Eviction moratorium. Student loan cancellation or moratorium. Less wealthy countries have done these things. Free COVID and related health care. Free PPE.

I'd like to see prosecution of the persons responsible for the pandemic "failure," for literally murderous misinformation, for holding super-spreader events, and for politicizing health safety. Also: The GOP held Democrats hostage in March to pass a corporate bailout and one-time $1,200. It's the insult and the pain of that choice that shatters me: Take this, or take nothing. The deal drags on, until the poor have no choice but to take milk-money.

Douglas Luippold, Baltimore

I grew up and spent most of my life in Texas, but moved to Baltimore, Maryland, this past September. I hold a law degree and work as a legal consultant on data privacy matters.

I think I read Joel Osteen's tax-exempt church got a $4.4 million PPP loan, but sure, with $600 parents can afford daycare for like two or three whole days! But seriously, why would we expect anything that actually helps people? You don't become an influential member of Congress by being really good at helping people (what a novel prospect!). You become an influential member of Congress by being really good at convincing corporations and rich people to write big fat checks to your party. And so our government has taken real good care of corporations and rich people during this pandemic.

To be honest, the pandemic hasn't impacted my finances a ton. My job has been secure (for now), I'm single with no kids or other family support obligations, and I've managed to stay healthy. But change literally any of those things — I lose my job, am responsible for supporting a family member, or I get sick and can't work — and I'm done for. That's what's insane about all of this — I've only been safe because I'm childless and not financially responsible for anyone but myself. If I get a $600 check from Uncle Sam, then I'll probably use it to pay down debt, or maybe save it for weekend trip once we can do such things again. Maybe give some to a harm reduction charity.

As for my ideal relief package: Simple — we pay non-essential businesses to close but keep everyone on payroll. Shutting down businesses for a few weeks hurts, but doesn't cause a depression. What causes a depression is when businesses open back up but no one has any money to spend at them. Paying businesses to keep everyone at home but on payroll would contain the virus while allowing folks to keep paying for housing and groceries and such like normal. It's good business too, saving employers the time and resources involved with layoffs, furloughs, re-hiring, retraining.

And, I mean, if it's my ideal relief package, then let's just throw in a moratorium on evictions, direct payment for childcare, allow everyone the ability to join Medicare, and a job guarantee. I know WPA infrastructure projects are the popular source for a job guarantee, e.g. "If you want a job you can help build bridges!" But I would send folks to the Justice or Treasury Departments to investigate PPP and [Small Business Association] loan grift: "If you lost your job because of COVID, you have guaranteed employment investigating the guys who got rich off it!"

Aicha, Boston

I thought Congress eyeing a $600 stimulus was ridiculous, especially for people who live in cities and for people who have children. $600 pays one bill for one month for most people. $600 for the entire course of the pandemic? Ridiculous, but glad it’s something at least.

Luckily, my finances are better than they have ever been. I recently got a job processing coronavirus tests that is the best paid job I have ever had. But I am fortunate as I live with my parents and don’t have to worry about most daily expenses. However, I was originally made unemployed due to the pandemic. $600 will be nice, and I will probably just put it in savings. However, I am not sure if I even qualify for it. Last time I didn’t qualify for the $1,200 because there was an exception made for college students who are classified as dependents by their parents. I am classified as a dependent on my mom’s 2019 taxes because I was still in school then.

Ultimately, no relief package will be sufficient under capitalism, but the relief you get should be based on individual circumstances like if you have children, how many children you have, whether you pay rent or a mortgage and how much you as an individual need. This one-size-fits-all approach is awful. How can a tech bro who has one girlfriend and is still working get the same stimulus check as a mom with two kids who lost her job? In addition, rent and back-pay need to be cancelled, university needs to be made free, student loans need to be forgiven. Small businesses need to be better supported, and schools need more funding for better ventilation. Hospitals and health care needs to be much better-funded. Everyone who is immunocompromised who had an in-person job needs to get paid weekly on a Social Security-like check during the pandemic.

Brianna, Chicago

My initial reaction to the $600 stimulus was horror. Anger. Confused. How could they give us half of what they did before? We have been paid ONCE, this whole time. ONCE. Politicians are so far removed if they think this amount is enough for eight months.

I’ve had two jobs ever since I’ve lived in Chicago. I am an essential and retail worker. I am so thankful that I have been able to still have some sort of income working at a grocery store, but I was furloughed from my retail job for five months due to the pandemic. I never received unemployment. This job was supposed to help to pay my $300-plus in private student loans every month, as well as other travel expenses and bills. I also have to pay $500-plus in rent monthly, which I’ve barely been able to afford with all my other living expenses even with "hazard pay."

Plus, I am unable to get paid if I were to get a coronavirus test, and unable to return to work until I get negative results. There have been a few times I haven’t been able to work because I was trying to be proactive and get tested when there was potential exposure at work. I sacrificed money for my and other’s health — which is what is expected, right? Now how am I supposed to pay my bills when a "few days off" takes a huge chunk of my paycheck? Not saying I should be rewarded for doing what is expected, but I do think I should be incentivized or compensated in some way, to help stop the spread.

I’ve been playing catch up on all expenses since March. $600 would barely cover one month’s rent, and nothing else. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to make this last or save this money; it’s not realistic. $600 is not helpful, yet I can’t deny any other source of income right now.

Each and every single adult should get at minimum of $2,000 backdated to March. Essential workers, postal workers, and front-line workers should get a backdated hazard pay increase in a lump sum payment, on top of the minimum sum. Families should get a minimum $1,200 per child per month, including backdated payments to March. Student loans should be forgiven. All evictions should be reversed and illegal during a pandemic. Public transportation should be free. Non-essential businesses should be closed, including malls and retail stores. No dining in at restaurants. Retail workers and restaurant workers should be heavily compensated and paid until it is safe in public to work again. COVID testing should be accessible and free and done regularly for those still working with the public. Face coverings should only be masks and worn above the nose.

I shouldn’t even have to say why; this is the bare minimum that can be done to help people. This should have been long before the vaccine was introduced. So many people have been crying for help, and this is just one suggestion of what help can look like.

Deane Ayers, Minneapolis

My initial reaction to the stimulus was definitely disgust and frustration. I’ve seen so much talk on social media from “progressive” politicians that they were trying to get ongoing survival checks to help people make it through this pandemic. Given all of that conversation, it made absolutely no sense to me when I saw that the amount they’re looking at is a one-time $600 check. There’s also a lot of disappointment about [Minnesota Rep.] Ilhan Omar’s comments that people should be grateful for the help the money could provide, even as she admitted it wasn’t enough.

My girlfriend and I are both recently unemployed, and if both of us receive a $600 stimulus check, that will cover exactly one month of rent. There won’t even be enough left over to pay towards utilities, groceries, or my credit card. We’re lucky enough to have savings that we can rely on (from my former job for myself, and my girlfriend from the expanded unemployment from the summer). A combination of luck, privilege, and government support have made sure that we can take care of ourselves and give back to our community the last few months. But I’m very aware of the fact that financial security is fleeting. Expectations for remote work are going to change when the vaccine comes out, and there won’t be any outside help at that point to keep me safe and secure.

The ideal relief package would include a moratorium on rent and mortgages, weekly cash payments to everyone (including unhoused and undocumented folks), and financial and health benefits for folks who are doing essential work. People need money at the end of the day, and a stimulus package that was actually intended to provide relief to folks in the U.S. would be keeping as much money as possible in the pockets and bank accounts of regular folks. I would also love to see the cancellation of various kinds of debt, from student loans to medical. Anything to guarantee some lasting financial security.