Personal Finance

$2,000 or $600 stimulus checks? How far each would go toward paying the rent

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Key Points
  • Most Washington lawmakers agree: Second stimulus checks are necessary.
  • But a battle over how much to send — $600 per person or $2,000 — is taking place between Capitol Hill and the White House.
  • A look at Census Bureau data shows a stark difference in how far each check would go toward covering one month's rent.
Handmade signs litter the ground after an anti-eviction protest outside a Mount Rainier, Maryland, apartment complex on Aug. 10, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters

Second stimulus checks are in the works for millions of Americans.

Now, Congress and President Donald Trump must agree: Should those payments be $600 or $2,000 per person?

The latest coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress includes $600 per person, or $1,200 per married couple, plus $600 per qualifying child.

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However, Trump called those direct payments "ridiculously low." Instead, on Tuesday he called for $2,000 per individual or $4,000 per couple. It is unclear how much children would get.

The $600 per person has been criticized prior to Trump's move.

"A one-time $600 check won't last long," said Natalie Foster, co-founder of the Economic Security Project, which supports guaranteed income.

Since Congress passed the CARES Act package in March, Covid-19 infection rates have climbed across the country. Millions of jobless workers could soon lose their unemployment benefits or risk eviction if protections provided through that legislation isn't renewed.

"Economic conditions are getting worse, not better," Foster said. "And this package will only hold people over for a short period of time."

One way to measure how much relief the payments will provide is to look at how the amounts compare to median rents across the country, based on data from the Census Bureau.

A $2,000 one-time stimulus payment would be enough to cover one month's rent in the vast majority of the country.

Only a few counties in California have median gross rents higher than $2,000 per month. They're in the San Francisco area: Marin County, at $2,069 per month; Santa Clara County, at $2,268; and San Mateo County, $2,316.

But while the $2,000 check would cover rent for 99% of the U.S. population, $600 would for less than 2% of people. A $600 check would pay for the median monthly rent in only about 500 counties.

To be sure, this comparison takes into account only payments for individuals. Married couples and those with children would get more, based on their circumstances.

But even for married couples who receive $1,200 instead of $600, that still would cover monthly rent for about two-thirds of the U.S population. Nearly 200 counties have median monthly rents above $1,200. Many are located in coastal areas with higher population density.

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