How did Americans use money from the CARES Act?

Sarah Tew/CNET

White House and Democratic negotiators are pushing to reach a deal on an economic stimulus package that brings more aid to American individuals and businesses. According to recent studies, the direct aid contained in March’s CARES Act, in the form of stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per person (with more money for dependents) and $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits, made an enormous impact on keeping Americans clothed, housed and fed. And a second round of payments could have a similar meaningful effect.

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute found that the stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits together helped keep 13.2 million Americans out of poverty through June. And the number of first-time unemployment claims have hovered above 800,000 a week since March, indicating continued job loss as a result of the pandemic.

A survey asked those who received a first stimulus check how they would use a second direct economic payment.

Below, are their answers, along with how recipients spent their relief money from the first around of payments.

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How would people spend the second check?

A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York asked recipients of the first direct payment how they would use the money from a second check, if one were approved.

  • 45% of the stimulus payment would be saved
  • 31% of the money would used to pay down debt
  • 14% of the funds would be used on essentials
  • 7%  of the money would go to nonessentials 
  • 4% would be donated

How did people spend the first round of stimulus checks?

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York also asked recipients of the first direct payment how they used their stimulus money. The survey, which included 1,300 households, found that the median payment per household was $2,400 (here’s how that’s calculated). 

According to the findings:

  • 36% of stimulus payments were saved.
  • 35% of the money was used to pay down debt.
  • 18% of the funds were used for essential spending, such as necessary daily living expenses.
  • 8% used for nonessential spending, such as hobbies, leisure, vacation, and other items respondents do not absolutely need.
  • 3% of the funds were donated.

The New York Fed suggested that only 30% of funds were spent (essential, nonessential and donations) out of concern over the length of the pandemic, its effect on the economy and restrictions on in-person shopping. Those concerns may have resulted in more saving rather than spending.

How did people use their enhanced unemployment benefits?

Two more surveys looked at enhanced unemployment benefits: A second survey by the New York Fed asked those who received enhanced unemployment benefits how they used the money and another survey, from the JPMorgan Chase Institute, looked at what recipients of the enhanced unemployment benefits did with the funds.

How people used enhanced unemployment benefits

How the money was used How spending and savings changed
49% used to pay down debts Spending increased by 22% after receiving unemployment benefits
24% used on essential spending Spending declined by 14% in August after supplement expired
23% of the funds were saved Savings doubled between March and July
4% on nonessential spending Two-thirds of the accumulated savings were then spent in August alone
1% donated

For more information, here’s what you need to know about unemployment during the pandemic, what is happening with the $300 unemployment benefit President Donald Trump authorized earlier this year and how to find out if you might qualify for a second stimulus check.

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