Melanie Hayes and tens of millions of other Americans are asking the same question as stimulus checks begin to arrive: How do I prioritize spending a one-time relief payment that won’t be enough?

Hayes and her family will receive $3,400 -- $1,200 apiece for herself and husband, Matt, and $500 for each of their two children. The plan was to use it to cover two months of mortgage payments on their house in Chesapeake, Virginia, where they own the Cutting Edge Cafe.

“And that’s probably what we’re going to do,” Hayes, 33, said. “But then in the middle of all of this, Matt’s car finally died on us.”

The cafe is still in business, filling take-out and delivery orders, but sales are down by at least 50%, Hayes said. Would the $3,400 be better applied there? Another tough question.

“I’m grateful for any sort of help we’re getting,” she said, “but it’s not going to go far for us.”

The Internal Revenue Service processed more than 80 million stimulus payments on April 10 in a centerpiece of a $2.2 trillion effort to shore up the battered U.S. economy. Americans earning $75,000 or less, or $150,000 and below as a couple, are eligible for the full $1,200 payout per adult, plus $500 for each child under 17.

“This is not enough money to keep most families afloat,” said Sandra Black, an economics professor at Columbia University and a Brookings Institution senior fellow. “And this shutdown is far from over.”

That reality is adding to the pressure for another round of federal assistance in the coronavirus pandemic. Some Democrats, including House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters of California, have proposed that thousands of dollars a month be allocated for families until the health crisis ends.

The impact of the checks will vary widely. For many -- if not most -- of those who have lost jobs or seen incomes plunge, the Economic Impact Payment, as it’s called, won’t cover expenses alone. At least 22 million Americans have filed jobless claims so far, and some who are still working have seen their wages cut.

Moreover, some lenders reportedly are garnishing the stimulus payments of customers who are overdrawn.

“It is essential to keep in mind the critical feature of this shock: It hits people very unevenly,” said Juan Sanchez, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Barely a Bridge
For Larrilou Carumba in San Francisco, the stimulus money will barely be a bridge. She’s been on unpaid furlough from her $26-an-hour housekeeping job at a four-star hotel since early March. She’s still paying contributions to her health-care plan while her union fights to keep those benefits in place.

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