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What to expect in your stimulus check


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 10, 2021
Stimulus guide, election audit, unemployment update, business suits, FBI treasure hunt, and a Veterans Stadium secret. It's Wednesday.

A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is expected to become law this week and includes billions of dollars for Pennsylvania governments, money to further boost pandemic-era unemployment payments, an expanded child tax credit, and direct stimulus payments for individuals and families. 

Once the bill gets final approval in the U.S. House and President Joe Biden's signature, processing of those direct stimulus payments could begin almost immediately, with checks expected to hit mailboxes — or bank accounts via direct deposit — later this month.

Nearly 85 percent of American households will qualify this time, according to Biden. Included in that figure are roughly five million Americans who were left out of the first two rounds — namely adult dependents, such as disabled individuals, college students, and the elderly, The Inquirer reports.

THE CONTEXT: As it currently stands, the eligibility formula has narrowed some, mostly because of political wrangling that resulted in tighter limits being placed on qualifying income levels.

Individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 should be eligible for the full payments — that's $1,400 per individual or $2,800 per married couple, and $1,400 for a qualifying dependent. That would mean a $5,600 lump sum for a qualifying family of four.

There's not much room for eligibility beyond that. The bill currently before the House would cut off payments for individuals earning more than $80,000 a year and for married couples earning more than $160,000, regardless of how many children they have, CNN reports. A sliding scale determines payment size for individuals and married couples earning just below those marks.

You can confirm your estimate using the handy calculator here

A few final things to note: If you’ve already filed your 2020 taxes, the size of your check will most likely be based on that income. If you haven’t, it will be based on your 2019 taxes. If you earned more in 2020, especially if you were near the cutoff points, it might be wise to wait on filing that return. If you earned less, filing 2020's return could be beneficial (assuming you have all the information you need).

And if you receive your payment on a debit card again as opposed to a paper check, be sure not to accidentally throw it away like I did the first time.


“Many species have gone extinct while waiting for action.” 

—Attorney Brian Segee on a lawsuit seeking protected status for the hellbender, Pennsylvania's official state amphibian
VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania has now given more than 3 million COVID-19 vaccine shots, with roughly one million people fully vaccinated, officials report. In Philadelphia, the city's weekly vaccination rate has nearly doubled since the opening of a FEMA-run clinic there, while a mass vaccination clinic for Pittsburgh public school educators is set for Thursday and Friday at Heinz Field. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» Redistricting in Pennsylvania: Join us at 5 p.m. March 16 for a Capitol Live by Spotlight PA expert panel on redistricting, gerrymandering, and its impact on Pennsylvania communities. RSVP FOR FREE NOW »»
POST IT: Spring is coming to Masonic Village in Elizabethtown. Thanks, John H.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

ELECTION REVIEW: A pilot audit of Pennsylvania's 2020 election results yielded “strong evidence” that the correct winner was named in the race for president (that would be Joe Biden). But reporting by Spotlight PA and Votebeat found the usefulness of the audit ends there, as it doesn't tell us much about the finer points of how the election was actually administered.

ENERGY SUIT: Pennsylvania's five-year-old lawsuit against a natural gas driller the state says cheated landowners out of royalty payments has been settled for $5.3 million. Authorities say Chesapeake Energy artificially limited competition for land leases and improperly deducted expenses from royalty checks. Affected lease holders will receive about $367 or about $700 from the settlement, per the Associated Press.

LONG-TERM BENEFITS: Thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to re-apply for unemployment benefits to ensure payments continue, WPXI reports. The requirement concerns people who are now in their second calendar year of unemployment and some who are receiving benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Officials are promising minimal disruptions and delays as a result, but there is concern after a year of profound clerical chaos within the state's aging system, as Spotlight PA detailed.

LEGAL ACTION: Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is pressing ahead with lawsuits against 50 Pennsylvania restaurants that defied a holiday ban on indoor dining and subsequent closure orders from the state. LancasterOnline reports the lawsuits seek to collect revenue the restaurants made while violating the orders and punitive damages as well, adding that the outcome "will test how far the state will go to enforce its COVID rules, even after those rules have been changed."  

MAIL DELAYS: Midstate postal workers are linking COVID-19 outbreaks at close-quarter processing and distribution plants with delivery delays that have dogged the system since last year. They blame management for failing to properly sanitize work stations, perform contact tracing, or fill vacancies, essentially voiding a leave policy meant to keep workers from getting sick or getting others sick. “The public needs to know: This is why your mail is being delayed,” union president Kim Miller told PennLive.

GOOD AS GOLD: Turns out the FBI was indeed looking for a fabled trove of Civil War gold when it excavated a remote site in Elk County in 2018, the Associated Press reports. Internal emails, unearthed as part of an ongoing legal case, confirm what the bureau refused to acknowledge publicly: Agents were hunting for lost Union gold potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The bureau says the search came up empty. 

'SECRET APARTMENT': A Vietnam vet claims he lived inside an abandoned concession stand at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium for three years in an “off-the-wall South Philly version of the Phantom of the Opera,” The Inquirer reports. Tom Garvey details the claim in a new book complete with clandestine parties, celebrity encounters, and, per The Inquirer, corroboration from an Eagles Hall of Famer. "It got weird fast," Garvey recalled of the experience.

LITTLE BOXES: One of the most compelling event descriptions we've read comes courtesy of a March 22 virtual tour of Pittsburgh astronomer Diane Turnshek's tiny home. According to the synopsis, the 500-square-foot house was built by formerly incarcerated people and assembled in a South Side warehouse before beginning "an escorted, cross-city journey that took nine hours until it reached eight acres of woods off a dead-end road."

EASY BREEZY: The mega-sized Bedford County rest stop known as Breezewood has been dubbed "Pennsylvania's Gas Vegas," "a polyp on the nation’s interstate highway system," and a shining or soul-crushing monument to American consumerism. A new photo essay from The Inquirer takes a closer look at a place most people only see from the confines of a slow-moving car.

GOLDEN PARACHUTE: Out of 31 appointments to Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board, 16 were employees in state government, the legislature, or former lawmakers. The wife of Republican state Senator Mike Regan became the board's newest appointee just last week. Spotlight PA's Angela Couloumbis told WESA about how the board became a "lucrative landing ground for the politically connected."
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Tremendous

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Dixie S., Jim F., Neal W., Susan D., Kevin H., Anna T., Irene R., Bill C., Jill G., Al M., Grace F., Bette G., Beth T., David I., Jessica K., Joel S., Dennis M., Cynthia H., George S., Dan E., Heidi B., Dianne K., George S., Mary Ellen T., David W., Suzanne S., Bob R., Karen W., Kim C., Carol D., Anna H., Patricia R., and Kathryn B.
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