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COVID-19

Some people still have not received the first COVID-19 relief check. Here’s why.

Sabri Ben-Achour, Rose Conlon, and Alex Schroeder Jul 20, 2020
Heard on:
One way to make sure more people get their payments if their is a second round is to consider prepaid debit cards instead of Treasury checks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
COVID-19

Some people still have not received the first COVID-19 relief check. Here’s why.

Sabri Ben-Achour, Rose Conlon, and Alex Schroeder Jul 20, 2020
Heard on:
One way to make sure more people get their payments if their is a second round is to consider prepaid debit cards instead of Treasury checks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate is back in session this week after a two-week recess. It is considering the next coronavirus relief package. Republicans and Democrats disagree over the size of the next round of direct cash payments, and who should get them.

But in the background here, some people still haven’t received the first economic relief payment Congress authorized back in March. A new study by the Urban Institute found racial disparities in whose checks were delayed.

One of the authors of that study, Janet Holtzblatt, is a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. She spoke with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour, and the following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sabri Ben-Achour: You found clear racial disparities in the data. Black and Hispanic people were less likely to have received their payments by late May than white people. Why?

Janet Holtzblatt: To some extent, part of that had to do with limitations and restrictions in the law. The group that had the lowest participation in our study were Hispanic adults who had non-citizens in their families. Under the CARES Act, people were not eligible for the economic impact payments if they were undocumented.

Ben-Achour: Congress, as we mentioned, is considering a second round of payments. How can the process be amended this time to reduce all these kinds of disparities?

Holtzblatt: I think one important aspect would be to really require the Treasury Department, IRS to provide the option of sending the money through prepaid debit cards. They tried that, but many of them received them and tore them up thinking it was junk mail, because there was no logo on the envelope or on the prepaid debit cards that indicated they were coming from the Treasury Department. It had the name of a private vendor.

Correction (Jul. 20, 2020): A previous version of this story misidentified the organization that released the report. The text has been corrected.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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