This week marks the first week that people will start seeing the $1,200 stimulus check in their bank accounts as a result of the CARES Act passed last month. This made me wonder -- now that people are starting to see this financial stimulus in their bank accounts, how do they plan to use it?
I put a call out on social media and to friends, asking, “What does it mean to you to be getting this money and how do you plan to spend it?”
I was surprised at how many people I reached out to weren’t sure if they qualified for the stimulus check. And I’ve been able to help them figure out if their parents should claim them as dependents, connect them to free tax software, and share the U.S PIRG guides on receiving your stimulus check and avoiding stimulus check scams.
I talked to food service workers, teachers, sales workers and artists. The food service workers, Austin and Dylan, have both taken a significant cut in their hours. The restaurant industry all across the country has been reeling from shuttering their doors for take-out only. This financial uncertainty has rippled down to all restaurant employees. Austin’s restaurant is “making in a month what it used to make in a night.” He has been able to maintain some hours helping with take-out orders but is happy “to see that my government is using my tax dollars to actually help me in a time of need” and will be putting that money towards his May rent and groceries.
Dylan splits his expenses with his girlfriend Steph, a teacher who is working full-time but remotely. She felt conflicted about receiving the stimulus check since they were still able to make ends meet even with Dylan working part-time. They are putting their stimulus checks into their savings in case something happens with the summer camps that Steph is planning to work at in the summer.
Another teacher, Adam, has also been working remotely full-time. Unlike Steph, he knew that he would continue to be teaching into the summer but that it may continue to be remote. He is using the stimulus money to move to a space where he can teach successfully. “I can’t keep stacking my laptop on top of books to get my camera to eye level” he said “if I am going to be teaching online into the foreseeable future, I need a space where I can set up a desk.”
I also talked to two artists, in very different industries. Cory, who works in graphic design says he is still busier than ever. But working from home without his studio has been difficult. A portion of his stimulus check is going to equipment to better work from home. “Normally, I’d ask my company to pay for equipment for work,” he said, “but in these current times, that’s been frowned upon”.
Ian, the artist working in a gallery in New York City, says no one is buying art these days and starting next week he is furloughed through September. “I am lucky that my company is paying me though this Friday, because that will give me enough money to pay May rent. The stimulus check will then go towards June rent and food. I hope to receive unemployment, however New York is struggling to keep up with the demands”
His roommate, Paige, has also been unable to file for unemployment. She works in customer service and has been out of work for over a month. Phone lines to unemployment offices across the country have been jammed with over 22 million Americans filing for unemployment in the last four weeks, and many left unfiled. She said, “I still do not know a single friend who has received unemployment benefits from my state this past month.”
Ian added, “The federal stimulus check is critical to millions of people right now, especially in places where the systems setup cannot handle the situation at hand.”
While most of the people that I talked to needed the stimulus check for rent, food or adjusting to working from home, I talked to one person who reminded me that even people who aren’t in immediate need are still putting it to good use. “My pay hasn't changed, so I didn't need the money, but I also have a relatively modest salary so extra cash is always nice.”
Alec, a journalist who is working full time, said, “I already had a bit of savings built up, and since this is extra money that is meant to stimulate the economy I am planning to spend it soon after I receive it. I am going to go out to local restaurants more once they reopen, and I am going to buy products I want from other local businesses. I will also likely donate some to various causes I support.”
The stimulus check that is starting to show up in people’s bank accounts this week is helping people all over the country make ends meet, build a safety net, or give back to their community. In our current times news is unfolding at a rapid pace, scams and misinformation are all around, and many people are facing economic hardship. I urge everyone reading this to check in on at least one friend to make sure they have the resources to receive their stimulus check. Let’s all work together to make sure that this money gets into the hands of people who need it the most.