February 28, 2021
Could a third stimulus check bill come to a vote next week? What we're hearing right now

When will the next stimulus check come? New update on when Congress could vote


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

The third stimulus check could come together fast. A week before taking office, President Joe Biden teed up a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal that includes another direct payment for up to $1,400 per person. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives will prepare to vote on a COVID-19 relief bill the week of Feb. 1: “We will be doing our committee work all next week so that we are completely ready to go to the floor when we come back,” she said on she said Thursday.

Pelosi didn’t offer specifics, but it’s suggested the House could work on  smaller, “skinny” bill that includes just the third stimulus check and funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. A smaller bill might face less opposition in an evenly divided Senate and let the IRS start sending out get the next checks quicker.

Also important is how the timing of a third payment could influence the way the IRS would distribute the money — would it be as a rebate that gets folded into 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’s how you’ll need to contact the IRS if you think you’re missing all or some of your first two payments.) This story will be updated with new information.

What’s the possible ‘skinny’ bill for stimulus checks and vaccines?

Pelosi didn’t mention what kind of COVID-19 relief bill the House committee would work on next week — whether it would be big or small — but there have been suggestions that House Democrats could first put forth a targeted, “skinny” bill on the table for stimulus checks and coronavirus vaccine distribution, followed by a broader stimulus package with other measures. We’ll have to see whether the chatter comes together.

While Democrats rejected the idea of a standalone bill during negotiations for December’s package, there’s certainly precedent for a standalone bill of some sort in the House. The chamber 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.

How could the $1,400 third stimulus check arrive in late February or March instead?

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

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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


“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.”

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.

The IRS could send another stimulus check quickly, right?

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 comes 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 set another 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

Would the IRS send the next stimulus check along 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.

Could there be any way 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 definitely going to happen?

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 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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