March 1, 2021
Could a third stimulus check bill come to a vote next week? What we're hearing right now

Could a third stimulus check bill come to a vote next week? What we’re hearing right now


The IRS isn’t done paying out the second stimulus check, but a third payment is already on the agenda.

Sarah Tew/CNET

President Joe Biden has already made it clear that a big stimulus package with a big third stimulus check is one of his top priorities. The question is, when. There have been whispers that Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal may not become a workable bill until late February or early March, but a new report suggests that a standalone bill including just a third stimulus check and funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution could make it to a vote in the House of Representatives as early as next week, according to Punchbowl News, a political report founded by former members of Politico.

If that were to happen, it raises even more questions about whether it would have a serious chance to pass in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans are split evenly at 50-50, and how fast the IRS could send the third stimulus check, which Biden has proposed for up to $1,400 per qualified adult

There’s also the question of how the timing of a third payment could also influence how the IRS distributes the money — as a rebate that’s part of tax season 2020 or as a separate payment through direct deposit, physical checks and EIP cards? We’ll walk through the what we know about how the IRS organized the first and second stimulus checks that can help us anticipate what could happen next. (And here are the top facts you should keep in mind and how you’ll need to contact the IRS if you think you’re missing all or some of your first two payments.) This story has been updated with new information.

What’s this about a ‘skinny’ COVID-19 bill for stimulus checks and vaccines?

There’s no official word yet, but the suggestion was been reported on Wednesday by Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman (previously of Politico’s Playbook). Sherman tweeted about the possibility of House Democrats considering a move to put a targeted, “skinny” bill on the table for stimulus checks and coronavirus vaccine distribution, as well as discussions Biden’s administration may have had with Rep. Tom Reed as a toe in the water. We’ll have to see whether the chatter comes together.

There’s certainly precedent for a standalone, or at least smaller, bill of some sort in the House of Representatives. The House passed the CASH Act on Dec. 28, 2020, a bill that would have amended the Dec. 2020 stimulus package signed by former President Donald Trump to bump the $600 upper limit of the second stimulus check to $2,000 instead — by replacing “$600” with “$2,000” on every mention and “$1,200” (the amount allotted to married couples) with “$4,000). It wasn’t taken up in the Senate before the new term began Jan. 3.

Or, could Congress approve a third stimulus check in February or March?

If a third stimulus check sticks with Biden’s $1.9 trillion package proposal, it will take more time to pass, going through the typical process of negotiation, and crafting legal language that can come under extraordinary scrutiny and debate. 

“The package was designed with the $1.9 trillion as a starting point,” Jen Psaki, the new White House Press Secretary, said during the first daily press briefing of the new administration. “This is a discussion, it’s a conversation, and [Biden] is no stranger to the process of bill-making… Rarely does it look exactly like the initial package that is proposed.” 

According to a Jan. 19 newsletter from Punchbowl News, “House Democrats now tell us they are aiming to pass Joe Biden’s massive Covid relief package by late February or early March, according to multiple sources involved in the effort.”

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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


Part of the equation is how long a debate within Congress could drag on. After more than seven months of heated and at times bitter negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over December’s stimulus bill, it’s impossible to know how long it will take to see Biden’s stimulus proposal — or a future version of it — go through the paces to become a bill, and for that bill to go up for a vote in the House of Representatives and Senate and become law. 

With the Democrats’ slim margin of control over both chambers in Congress, Biden may have an advantage getting his objectives approved, though opposition is already vocal from members of his own party over the $1,400 per person maximum, with some pushing for $2,000 per person and at least one other questioning why Americans need a third check.

How quickly could the IRS send a third stimulus check?

In under three weeks, the IRS and Treasury sent over 100 million second stimulus checks. There was a tremendously fast turnaround with the second check. For example, it took the IRS 19 days from the date the March 2019 stimulus bill passed to the day the first check was issued. Conversely, the Dec. 27 stimulus package gave the IRS just 17 days total, including weekends. (If you didn’t get yours, you have to claim it as part of tax season 2020.)

There was one notable direct deposit error as a result of the IRS’ rush to get payments delivered, and people who didn’t get their payment may now have to wait weeks or months for their second checks. But the scenario suggests that if the protocols are in place, the IRS could theoretically ship out third stimulus checks within days and weeks, rather than weeks and months.

As an interesting data point, the IRS was able to process between 5 million and 7 million a week with the first stimulus check, according to a government report from June.


How you get your second stimulus check could also influence how soon your payment arrives.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What happens if a third check arrives during tax season?

Questions are already swirling around how the IRS and Treasury would handle a third stimulus check, and some of that could very well depend on timing. 

Let’s say hypothetically that a stimulus bill were to pass both chambers of Congress before Feb. 12, the day the IRS begins processing the first 2020 tax returns. Would they send a separate check or attempt to bundle them in with the Recovery Rebate Credit for missing money from the first two checks? Apart from the fact that Congress would have a very narrow window to pass the bill in this hypothetical scenario, the IRS would have very little time to process the third checks, or change their protocol to wrap the second into taxes.

Now, let’s say it passes in early March as part of an overarching COVID-19 relief bill and the checks begin shipping in mid-March. That scenario would still overlap with tax season by a month, before the April 15 tax deadline. 

By that time, tens of millions of Americans may have already received their tax refunds, which could make it tricky for the IRS to straighten out or redact after issuing. Things could get complex whether the IRS would attempt to fold a third check delivery into the remaining tax cycle, or send a third check separately.

Would the IRS impose a deadline with the third check? 

The Jan. 15 deadline levied for the second stimulus check was written into the text of the bill, without explanation. It isn’t immediately clear if the bill text would adopt another cutoff in the future, or if that was a one-time consideration that took into account the IRS’ overlapping duties to process stimulus checks and prepare for Tax Season 2020. Last year, the April 15 tax date was extended to July 15.

The two overlap with the second stimulus check in that anyone who didn’t receive all or part of their second payment must claim it as part of the IRS’ Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return — even if they have nonfiler status and aren’t typically required to file taxes.


The first and second stimulus checks were nominally sorted by different payment groups, and one had a clear advantage over the others.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How would the IRS send a third stimulus check — with priority groups?

What are IRS payment groups? A way we noticed that the IRS seems to organize when payments go out to certain categories of people based on the method of payment. 

The main ones are people who get their checks through direct deposit (the largest group, and the quickest deliver), through paper checks in the mail and through EIP debit cards, a method that the IRS has told CNET gets payments out faster than physical checks, but which was also the last payment method to go out both stimulus check rounds. It also requires you to activate a prepaid debit card.

The other groups that are loosely defined (by us) include social security beneficiaries, who received payments a different way the first time if they’re part of the SSI or SSDI programs, and people with more complex scenarios, which could lead to potential issues or holdups receiving their money. People in child support situations have been an example, and so have people who are incarcerated, and those with more complex citizenship scenarios.

Would there be any ways to get a third stimulus check faster?

While we don’t know when a third stimulus check could arrive, there are a few things you can do to help speed up receipt of your check, when and if it happens. For example, signing up for direct deposit in your 2020 tax return would put you in the priority category if a third stimulus payment came to be.

And if you’ve moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS. Here were our other suggestions for people to get their second checks faster. Note that, there could be some changes to qualifications that may not apply to a possible third stimulus check.  

Is a third stimulus check guaranteed?

Whether a third stimulus check happens or not, and which form it could take, is up to Congress. The rest, for now, is the basis of today’s public conversations in government, and our educated guesses. There’s always a significant chance that a bill may pass one chamber and not the other, or fail entirely. For now, we watch and wait.

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