Coronavirus stimulus checks: What you need to know

Now that the federal government has passed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, many Americans will receive a stimulus check. According to the legislation, individuals can receive up to $1,200 depending on their income. For example, if your income is $75,000 or less, you will receive the full $1,200, and if you make between $75,000 and $99,000, your stimulus check will be reduced based on how much you earn.

Individuals making more than $99,000 will not receive stimulus support. Couples without children can receive up to $2,400 and couples with children will receive an additional $500 for each child age 16 and younger.

But what about the tens of millions of Americans who do not have bank accounts? Without checking or savings accounts, many will be forced to use check cashing vendors who charge service fees, reducing the available funds for those individuals who need it most. Many of the patients who receive grants from the American Kidney Fund’s (AKF) Health Insurance Premium Program (HIPP) fall into this category of unbanked Americans.

AKF is supporting a bill recently introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio called the Banking for All Act. If passed, this bill would let consumers set up "FedAccounts" at local banks and post offices. Account holders would receive debit cards, online account access, automatic bill pay, mobile banking and ATM access at post offices. Unlike many bank accounts, FedAccounts would not be subject to fees or minimum balances, and they would be managed by the Federal Reserve.

At a time when many states have mandatory stay at home orders and people are being encouraged to practice social distancing, it is critical for Americans to have access to digital banking accounts so they can access the full amount of these relief funds from the safety of their homes. This is even more critical for patients with chronic diseases, such as kidney disease, since they are at high risk for COVID-19.

Some banks across the country are already responding to this crisis by providing options and solutions to consumers who need them, but a national response to this problem is essential.

The struggles faced by people who are unbanked are not new to AKF. AKF’s HIPP program pays for health insurance premiums for low-income dialysis and transplant patients who cannot afford their health care coverage. But an increasing number of insurance companies—who do not want these high-cost patients on their plans—refuse to accept AKF’s premium payments on behalf of patients.

When this happens, AKF must send payments to patients instead of directly to the insurer. And because many of our grant recipients do not have bank accounts or access to reliable and consistent transportation, they sometimes cannot turn around the payments in time, or have to pay check cashing or money order fees that leave them without enough funds to pay their premiums in full. This can result in insurers dropping these patients from coverage—one example of a devasting consequence for low-income patients who do not have bank accounts.

AKF strongly encourages the passage of the Banking for All Act, to not only help our grant recipients right now, but also for every other American who struggles day-to-day to make ends meet and whose only financial safety net in this crisis will be their stimulus and unemployment checks. You can ask your members of Congress to support the Banking for All Act by completing this 2-minute AKF action alert.

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About the Author

Melanie Kahn

Melanie Kahn is director of state policy and advocacy for the American Kidney Fund.

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