How California workers plan to spend $600 COVID-19 stimulus

How California workers plan to spend $600 COVID-19 stimulus

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For Mary Bane and her husband in Sacramento, $1,200 will help the couple in their mid-70s get groceries delivered, avoiding trips to stores where they could contact the coronavirus.

For Jose Lara Cruz, 23, $600 helps paying the rent of an one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley he shares with his girlfriend, who wasn’t eligible to receive her own stimulus payment because she filed taxes as a dependent last year.

For Todd Hymas, 41 in Sacramento, $2,400 in stimulus checks from him, his partner and two children let him pay off his car loan, softening the loss of income from his job as a consultant for corporate events.

The checks give Hymas “a sense of relief after hearing and waiting for activities in Congress for months,” he said. “In the short term, not knowing where the month-to-month income is at, it helps the predictability of what the monthly goal is.”

Those are just a few of the ways people across California plan to spend the checks given from the federal government as part of a second round of COVID-19 relief.

The $900 billion coronavirus relief package gives $600 to single people making $75,000 or less and $1,200 to married couples making $150,000, with partial payments for some who earn more than the threshold. Families can get additional $600 for most dependent children under age 17.

Some with stable income said they don’t need the money — they plan to donate much of their checks.

But others said the money could help their lives after months or years of living month-to-month, whether it be finally giving them some room to dig out of their debt or paying for a bed frame which they couldn’t save up for for nearly two years.

“I don’t know if I have a single bill that’s up to date right now,” said Alesha Monteiro, 42 of Sacramento’s Greenhaven neighborhood, who is awaiting $3,000 in stimulus checks for her and her four children. “I’m behind in every single utility we have, car insurance, multiple credit card bills and food is low.”

And some of them are looking forward to the next few weeks, when more financial help could be on the way. Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking lawmakers to approve $600 for families earning less than $30,000. The incoming Biden administration is pushing for $2,000 stimulus checks, a proposal buoyed by the Democrats’ victory in Georgia.

What $600 stimulus checks mean for Californians

Of more than 50 people who spoke with The Sacramento Bee about their plans, about half said they will spend the check paying off bills.

Marco Ramirez, of Sacramento, said he spent his $600 stimulus check on fixing his car’s faulty headlight and paying down credit card debt after buying Christmas presents for his loved ones.

“It’s always nice to have something that you didn’t expect to have,” Ramirez, 24, said. “I’m not going to bad mouth an extra $600.”

For Bane and her husband, they are paying $350 a month more for food and household supplies during the pandemic, from paying for increased food prices to tipping those who deliver their groceries. The checks help make up for the increase, she said.

“We could refuse to tip shoppers, but I feel this would be very unfair as they are risking contracting the virus,” Bane said in an e-mail. “Something that we are unwilling to do ourselves, and we believe they deserve the small compensation that we give them.”

Nicole Foster, 26 in Sacramento, said she and her husband have used the check to pay down their student debt. Her promotion in her nonprofit fundraising job helped offset her husband’s loss of income after getting his hours cut in his live event production job, but the pandemic reminded the couple how fragile their economy can be, she said.

“When everything happened with the pandemic, it definitely helped me realize the power of being debt free and not having a payment over my head every month in case we have a change in our income,” she said.

Findings from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, released in June last year, showed that nearly 80% of respondents used their first stimulus checks given last spring on food and household costs like including rent, gas, electricity, cable, internet and cellphone bills.

Some are giving to charity

But not everyone plan to spend the checks that way. Of those who responded to The Bee, more than 40% said they plan to donate the money, and a few said they plan to save it.

“I basically feel guilty getting this money, although I’m far from being a rich person,” said Jan Darvas in Sacramento’s Tahoe Park, who donated half of her stimulus check to the Front Street Animal Shelter where she volunteers in. “I know how much they are hurting for money all the time. People drop their animals off there who can no longer afford to feed them.”

Some said they’re donating the check to nonprofits such as the Sacramento Food Bank. Others are giving money to their friends and families who are struggling.

Gwen Schoen, a former writer at The Bee, said she’s giving the money to her hairdresser, manicurist and house sitter.

Schoen had donated parts of her first stimulus check to her housesitter as well, given how the worker had lost all her business during the beginning of the pandemic.

“There’s a definite need for it, but not for people like me,” she said. “Thank you for the money, but I didn’t really need the money, so I’m trying to share the money who need it a lot more than I do.”

More help could be on the way

Still, many of those who responded to The Bee said they needed the $600 checks, and they are looking forward to the next round of economic aid that could soon come their way.

President-elect Joe Biden has also pledged to give $2,000 checks to Americans once he takes office in a couple of weeks. With Democrats controlling the U.S. Senate and the House, Biden’s proposal is more likely to succeed.

The money could especially be more helpful to Black and Latino communities — 8 in 10 Latino and 7 in 10 Black households with children had difficulty meeting their needs, according to an analysis last fall by the California Budget and Policy Center.

“Getting cash to those folks is going to benefit all of us, because we know those families will spend it on their communities,” said Alissa Anderson, a senior policy analyst at the center.

Those earning below $30,000 a year, including some undocumented and mixed-status families could be eligible to receive an additional $600 stimulus check from the state, under a new proposal announced on Wednesday by Newsom, dubbed the “Golden State Stimulus.” If approved, that new round of support will go to low-income Californians who qualify for the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

“The floor has been caving in for so many families,” said Jacqueline Martinez, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation, during a press conference announcing the state’s new stimulus proposal. “This money is going to go into the pockets of the people who are keeping us fed, or making sure that our families have the basic essentials so that we can work from home.”

Help us cover the issues most important to you through The Sacramento Bee’s partnership with Report for America. Contribute now to support Kim Bojórquez’s coverage of Latino issues in California for the Capitol Bureau — and to fund new reporters.

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Jeong Park joined The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau in 2020 as part of the paper’s community-funded Equity Lab. He covers economic inequality, focusing on how the state’s policies affect working people. Before joining the Bee, he worked as a reporter covering cities for the Orange County Register.

Kim Bojórquez joined The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau as a Report for America corps member in 2020. She covers Latino communities in California. Before joining The Bee, she worked for Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

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