Stimulus aid roundup: Here are benefits you might have missed

The federal government’s stimulus programs during the pandemic have directed trillions of aid to families, businesses and local governments. Although most eligible households have already received checks from the three rounds of direct stimulus aid, some forms of government assistance remain available. 

Experts say the array of government initiatives has helped stem financial hardship for millions of Americans. Much of the aid is directed to low- and middle-income households, who are more vulnerable to job and income losses. For example, families with children under 17 will soon be able to tap expanded tax credits for child care and other expenses, enabling parents to return to the workforce. 

The stimulus aid is having an impact: 28% of households in mid-June reported difficulty in paying their expenses over the previous week — down from a peak of 38% in December, according to an analysis of Census data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

The programs offer significant financial help. Together, they can provide a low-income working family with two children under the age of 6 with as much as $40,000 in benefits through a combination of direct cash payments and tax credits. 

To be sure, not all families will qualify for all available stimulus aid. But for people in financial distress, even more modest levels of assistance can make a meaningful difference. Below is a roundup of available programs created through several stimulus bills passed during the pandemic.

Stimulus checks: $11,400 for a family of four

The IRS has sent three rounds of stimulus checks that were tied to household income and number of children. Each round offered different payment amounts and eligibility requirements. But millions of families qualified for all three, which entitled an eligible family of four with two children under 17 years old to a total of $11,400 in direct payments.

To be sure, most of this money has already been paid out. But the IRS in June said it is still sending out stimulus checks from the latest round, which provided $1,400 for each eligible adult and child. It’s also still making what are known as “plus-up” payments, additional money for households that didn’t receive all of the funds they are entitled to. 

The latter issue could occur if a family had a child last year, for example. That’s because the IRS was sending out payments before many families had filed their 2020 tax returns — in which case the agency reviewed eligibility based on 2019 tax returns, which wouldn’t reflect the new birth. 

The IRS is continuing to process tax returns. It has a backlog of 35 million returns, which means some households may be in line for additional payments.

If you haven’t received a stimulus check you believe you are qualified for or got less than you should have, the IRS advises filing a 2020 tax return and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit. That is a line on the Form 1040 that allows you to claim one or both of the first two checks. 

Filing a 2020 tax return will also allow people to qualify for the third round of stimulus aid, the IRS notes. 

Child Tax Credit: Up to $3,600 per child

Another major stimulus program that could impact as many as 36 million households is the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), which will provide $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17. The CTC has been around since the 1990s, but President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan has expanded it and added cash payments. 

Some anti-poverty advocates believe it could provide a massive boost to household finances, even lifting more than 4 million children out of poverty, because the measure will start depositing monthly checks into bank accounts on July 15. 

The CTC works by providing half of the credit in cash payments over six months, from July through December. In other words, a family with one child under 6 will receive the $3,600 credit, with $1,800 paid in cash over the next six months — or $300 per month. 

That means a family of four with two children under 6 will receive $3,600 through December, or $600 per month. The remainder of the CTC will be claimed as a tax credit when people file their taxes in early 2022. 

People can check if they will receive the payments and update their bank account information through the Child Tax Credit Update Portal on the IRS website.

Earned Income Tax Credit: Up to $6,700

Like the CTC, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has been around for years. But the American Rescue Plan expanded the benefit, which is geared to low- and middle-income households. For instance, single taxpayers without kids need to earn less than about $21,000 to qualify, while married couples with three children need to have annual income of less than about $57,400.

The American Rescue Plan expanded the size of the credit and changed some of the guidelines, which means more people will qualify for the tax credit this year.

The maximum amount of the credit also was increased this year, which means single taxpayers without children can receive $1,502 in 2021 instead of about $500 previously. Low- or moderate-income families with three or more kids will receive the biggest EITC, at more than $6,700 per household.

The stimulus bill also expanded the age eligibility for 2021, with the minimum age reduced from 25 to 19, while former foster children and homeless youth can claim the credit if they are 18 instead of 25. 

The EITC has also temporarily waived its upper age limit. That means people who are 65 or older can claim the credit on their 2021 taxes. 

Child and Dependent Care tax credit: Up to $8,000 per child

This program hasn’t received as much attention as the expanded Child Tax Credit, but the Child and Dependent Care tax credit could offer a huge benefit to working families in the current tax year. The Child and Dependent Care credit is aimed at helping families that need to pay for child care in order to allow parents to work. 

The American Rescue Plan changed the credit in several ways:

  • Expanding the credit to $8,000 per child, up from $3,000 previously, and up to a maximum of $16,000 per family.
  • Boosting the maximum amount of child care expenses you can claim to 50% of qualified expenses, up from 35%. For instance, if your day care costs $16,000 annually, you could claim up to $8,000 of that through this tax credit. 
  • Making the CDC fully refundable, which means that taxpayers who don’t owe income tax will receive the tax credit as a refund check. 

There are income limits for this expanded tax credit, however, which means some upper-income families may not receive all the benefits. For instance, households earning over $125,000 will be phased out of the ability to claim 50% of child care expenses, with households earning more than $438,000 annually completely phased out, the IRS says.

This is a tax credit that you’ll include on your 2021 tax return provided you meet the eligibility requirements. That means taxpayers won’t see the benefit until they file their returns early next year, with some potentially receiving a larger tax refund. 

Internet assistance: $50 a month

Low-income households and those that suffered income losses due to the pandemic may qualify for a $50 monthly discount on their broadband bill. 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program, run by the Federal Communications Commission, aims to connect households to jobs and remote schooling, among other services. The program is open for applications on the FCC website

Households can qualify in a number of ways, such as participation in an assistance program like food stamps or if they lost income due to the pandemic and had annual income last year of less than $99,000 for single taxpayers and below $198,000 for joint filers. 

Food stamps: Grocery pre-paid cards, extra benefits

The food stamp program was also expanded during the pandemic, offering larger benefits to households who qualify as well a new program created for children who might have missed in-school meals given the widespread switch to remote schooling. 

The American Rescue Plan extended a temporary 15% bump in food-stamp benefits through September 30, or about $27 in additional benefits per person each month. 

The stimulus bill also expanded the Pandemic EBT program through the summer, which is geared toward helping children get access to food. The P-EBT program was first authorized by Congress last spring when the pandemic shuttered schools, providing pre-paid cards that allow families to shop for food at grocery stores and other locations. 

P-EBT cards are available to students who would have received free or reduced-price meals if their schools hadn’t been closed or operating on reduced hours. Families can apply for these benefits through their children’s schools or via their state’s SNAP program.

Pandemic unemployment aid: Extra $300 a week

Several pandemic unemployment programs are still in operation until early September — except for the 26 states that have said they are ending the programs early. 

The early curtailment of jobless aid in states ranging from Texas to New Hampshire will impact 4.7 million jobless workers, according to an estimate from the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. But in the other 24 states, workers who have lost their jobs can apply for the benefits, which include an extra $300 in weekly benefits. 

Emergency assistance to renters

Pandemic relief efforts have directed $25 billion to renters who qualify for the Emergency Rental Assistance program, which is aimed at low- and moderate-income households that suffered a job or income loss in the pandemic and who are at risk of homelessness or housing instability. 

Qualifying renters can receive up to 15 months of rent assistance. Generally, people should apply through their state. Start by Googling your state and “Emergency Rental Assistance” to find your state’s application portal. You’ll generally need documents such as pay stubs and a current lease showing your rent amount, among other documents.

Many eligible renters may not be aware of the program, according to The Washington Post, which reported earlier this month that only $1.5 billion of the earmarked funds has been spent so far.

Enhanced ACA premium subsidies: $50 a month

The American Rescue Plan also has a provision to lower health care costs for people who buy their insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. 

These increased tax credits were available starting on April 1, and should lower premiums by an average of $50 a month, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

The agency said the tax credits are available to people who submit an application or a plan on or after April 1. Current ACA enrollees should update their applications and enrollments to tap the new tax credits, which should reduce their premiums for the rest of the year, the agency said.