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4th stimulus check? What are the $1,000 'thank you' payment and $2,000 check petition

Don't believe the rumors you've seen online -- Congress hasn't approved more stimulus checks for this year. But a petition for pandemic relief payments has gained support.

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The economic recovery and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout are two reasons why more relief aid is unlikely. 

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States are sending stimulus checks (see California and its Golden State stimulus). Even schools are sending them (like Georgia's "thank you" bonuses for teachers). But despite growing support for a fourth stimulus check, Washington lawmakers are keeping talk of another round of payments on the back burner this summer.

The three stimulus checks approved in 2020 and 2021 helped families pay for household expenses and other needs during the pandemic. But a fourth payment isn't included in the draft bipartisan infrastructure plan or any of President Joe Biden's recent economic proposals. One type of extra cash going to millions of families in 2021 is the expanded child tax credit. There are also $1,000 checks going to teachers and other school staff in several states, including Georgia and Florida.

Will anything happen with a fourth stimulus check? We'll explain below. As for other money matters, new rules for the child tax credit give parents the option of receiving the advance monthly checks for extra cash this year or receiving one lump sum for up to $3,600 per kid in 2022. Here's how to check on your tax refund if you haven't received it yet and what to know about the unemployment tax break. We've updated this story.

What are the $1,000 'thank you' checks?

As part of the American Rescue Plan, state and local governments received $350 billion in assistance. Much of that aid will go to schools, with some states deciding to pay their teachers and other school staff a "thank you" bonus of up to $1,000. The states participating are Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas and California. It's likely other states will approve similar funds in the future, as they have until 2024 to spend the funds.

What is California doing with its stimulus checks?

California has sent two rounds of stimulus payments to eligible residents. Called Golden State Stimulus I and II, the payments are intended to support low-income Californians and help those facing hardships due to the pandemic, the state said.

What will happen with the petition for $2,000 checks?

A current Change.org petition that has collected more than 2.6 million signatures calls on Congress to send out a fourth stimulus check of $2,000 for adults and $1,000 for children on a monthly basis for the remainder of the pandemic. The petition notes that "the recovery hasn't reached many Americans" and points to the need for immediate checks and recurring payments so that "we can keep our heads above water." 

According to a recent study, the first three stimulus checks helped reduce hardships like food insufficiency and financial instability. So far during the pandemic eligible adults have received a max of $3,200 and children have received $2,500. For many struggling families, that's not enough to bounce back from lost wages and benefits. While the Change.org petition is close to becoming one of the most popular on its website, whether it will have any effect is another question. 

What's going on with Washington's stimulus money proposals?

Since the American Rescue Plan became law in March, the White House has proposed two packages -- the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan -- neither of which called for more stimulus aid. On June 3, a White House press conference indicated that efforts would focus on the infrastructure spending package. Biden is "open to a range of ideas" regarding stimulus aid, according to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, but she also said he already put forward what would be "the most effective for the short term."

The new scaled-back compromise of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, which the White House announced on June 24, doesn't include anything related to "human infrastructure" -- it doesn't address child care, improved wages or job training. At the same time, the announcement states, "President Biden remains committed to the comprehensive agenda laid out in the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan."

It's been some months since Democratic members of the House and Senate argued for another stimulus check. In late March, a group of lawmakers asked Biden to include regular stimulus payments in his next stimulus package. In May, several members of the House Ways and Means Committee made a similar request. Citing increased poverty and spiraling debt among Americans, they noted that "most people spent relief checks on monthly expenses or essentials such as food, utilities, rent and mortgage payments."

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What relief money has already been disbursed this year?

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 from March contained three types of direct payments to individuals:

Stimulus checksStimulus payments of up to $1,400 have gone out to those who meet the requirements. There's also money going to certain individuals in the form of "plus-up" payments

Child tax credit: A temporary expansion of the child tax credit for 2021 sends qualifying families up to $3,600 for each child -- you can calculate your child tax credit total here. The advance partial payments, which began this month, will last through the end of the year, with a final payment in 2022. 

Federal unemployment bonus: A weekly $300 unemployment bonus was extended to Sept. 6, as was Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to gig workers and freelancers (the self-employed). However, over half of state governments chose to opt out of the extended benefits before Sept. 6, so millions of jobless Americans in those states were cut off from those funds as early as mid-June.

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So far, eligible US families have received three stimulus checks amid the pandemic. 

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Will Congress approve additional money by the end of this year? 

There's a lot to consider when evaluating the future of stimulus aid for families. The White House could put additional cash in the pockets of Americans in the following scenarios: 

If it makes the child tax credit raise permanent: Money from the expanded child tax credit is set to start this week with monthly payments to lower- and middle-income families with children. In a July 7 speech on the Build Back Better Agenda for Working Families, Biden called to extend the expanded child tax credit to 2025. Other aspects of the American Families Plan related to health care costs and medical leave have also yet to be negotiated. 

If it passes a minimum wage hike: Some senators continue to look for ways to boost the federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 per hour. A few proponents want to set the bar at a $15 hourly wage, and others are looking to only go up to $11 an hour. In recent years, many states, localities and businesses have implemented minimum wage increases above the federal level. However, the discussion of a new national rate of $15 an hour has hit a roadblock in recent months, and the likelihood of it being enacted anytime soon is low.

If it renews federal unemployment bonuses beyond the fall: Some lawmakers originally petitioned for federal unemployment assistance to extend beyond Labor Day. However, dozens of states have already cut off extended benefits early, and enhanced unemployment relief is not likely to continue beyond the expiration date in other states. On June 4, Biden indicated that the temporary boost in jobless benefits should expire in early September as planned.

In the meantime, here's what to do if there's a problem with your stimulus check. And here's what we know about the new IRS portals that'll help you get money via the child tax credit checks that started on July 15.