Stimulus Breakdown and FAQ For Families

Last week, Congress passed the big stimulus package, AKA the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. But with all of the information contained in this 242-page document, what does that mean for you and your family?

In this post, I’m breaking down everything you need to know about the stimulus and most importantly, what it means for most American families. As I’m not a legal expert or a tax expert, I will do my best to give you the best information I can find and understand with my undergraduate poli sci minor and C-Span-binging education. 

The Basics:

  • $1400 cash payments per person, including kids
  • Unemployment has been extended through September
  • Unemployment includes an extra $300 a week on top of what you would otherwise receive
  • Child tax credit went way up to $3000 per child or $3600 per young child
  • Billions in housing and utilities assistance will be available for homeowners, landlords, and renters
  • Extended SNAP (food assistance) benefits
  • Extended P-EBT (Pandemic EBT) benefits

Cash Payments

  • Do I qualify?

89% of filers will receive a payment under this plan, so probably. The upper-limit AGI (adjusted gross income) cutoff for single filers is $80,000, $120,000 for Head of Household filers, and $160,000 for couples who are married filing jointly. This amount starts to phase out above $75,000 for an individual, etc. For example, if you make $76,000, your payment will be $1,120. 

You can use this tool to calculate your stimulus payment. 

  • What about dependents?

The great news is that the rules for dependents have expanded for the ARP. The previous stimulus cut off at age 16. However, under this current plan, you will receive a payment for any dependents you claimed on your taxes. The total amount for all family members will be deposited with or included in parents’ checks. 

That means if you have a college student younger than 24 at the end of the calendar year you’re still claiming as a dependent, any child younger than 19, an older adult family member you claim, or an individual with a disability you claim as a dependent, they will be covered. With more than 13.5 million individuals that will now be added to receive payments thanks to these changes, this bill will help a lot of people!

Additionally, the overall payment has increased. Unlike the previous stimulus where the amount was smaller per child, you will receive the full $1400 per dependent as well. 

  • What if I share custody?

The situation with shared custody gets a little bit tricky. Even though only one parent can claim a child as a dependent, you may be able to qualify for some money after filing your next tax return. Learn more about this here

  • Which tax return will determine eligibility?

Your most recent tax return will be used to determine your payment eligibility. That means if you have already filed your 2020 tax return and it has been processed, your payments will be based on 2020. However, if you have not yet had your tax return for 2020 processed, the IRS will go by your 2019 tax return. 

  • What if my 2020 tax return included new dependents or a lower income?

Let’s say your tax return from 2020 hasn’t yet been processed and your income has changed since you filed 2019. Maybe your income was $160,000 in 2019 but last year, your income dipped to $60,000. Or perhaps your dependent status changed this year and you now have two extra dependents. 

No problem! As long as it is before July 15, 2021 (or if the filing deadline gets pushed back from April 15, September 1), after the IRS receives your 2020 tax return, you will be sent an additional payment from the IRS for the difference. 

This also means you will receive money retroactively if you adopted a child or had a child during 2020 and did not receive a stimulus for that dependent. 

Finally, although I’m not sure how the details will play out, an investment in WIC should help many Oklahoma families. 

  • What if my income actually went up in 2020 or I have fewer dependents?

If you’re one of the lucky few that received a stimulus payment based on your 2019 tax return knowing that your 2020 tax status would reduce your eligibility, don’t worry. You will not be required to pay back that money.

Similarly, if you have fewer dependents in 2020 than in 2019 but received a payment for them, you will get to keep this money. If you know your income is up or you have fewer dependents to claim, it may be worthwhile to delay submitting your tax return for this reason. 

  • What if I have a huge family?

If you’re the Brady Bunch, good news! You’ll get a stimulus check for every single kid in the family! This means if you’re married filing jointly and have eight little mini-mes, you’re going to get $14,000 on your stimulus. 

  • What about mixed-status families?

16.2 million people in the United States live in mixed-status families, or families where at least one household member is not a U.S. citizen but the others are. For example, one spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident but their husband or wife is not, or parents are non-citizens but their children are U.S. citizens. Formerly, a married couple filing jointly could not qualify if one household member did not have a social security number. 

Many of these families were left out of the first stimulus payments but were added in the second stimulus and will be included in this stimulus. You can learn more about mixed-status family qualifications here

  • Do I have to claim stimulus income on my tax return?

No. This will not affect your AGI for next year. 

  • Can my stimulus check be garnished?

Your stimulus check won’t be garnished for child support or back taxes but can be garnished by private debt collectors including medical debt, credit card debt, and private student loans because it was not passed through budget reconciliation.

  • When will I receive my payment?

If you qualify for the cash payment, there’s a good chance you have already received it. I know several families who received their payments the following day after Biden signed the bill since the system was already set up for direct deposits and all of their information was on file. 

If you receive your payments via Social Security payments, those typically come when your next Social Security deposit comes. If your check comes via mail, those tend to take a bit longer, even up to four weeks. You can use this tool to track your stimulus. 


Because there are different types of unemployment claims and it can get pretty complicated, I strongly recommend following the Oklahoma Unemployment Security Commission on Facebook or Twitter. OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt is incredible about constantly providing video updates on any changes related to federal legislation.

If you are having trouble getting your claim processed, a little birdy told me that your best bet is to show up to one of the smaller OESC offices just outside of Tulsa. People who struggled for weeks on hold have shared stories about popping over to the Sapulpa office and having their problem resolved within a day. 

Rental and Housing Assistance

With nearly one in five renters behind on their rent in February and an estimated $57 billion owed in back rent, one goal of the rescue act is to help keep families in their homes. That is why the Emergency Rental Assistance program includes $25 billion in funding for utilities and rental assistance including nearly $20 million for Tulsa and surrounding areas. Payouts from the ERA will be made directly to states, territories, tribes, and local governments, according to the U.S. Treasury.

If you live in Tulsa, you can apply for this funding through Restore Hope Ministries, which is the lead agency for distributing ERA funding in our area. You can apply here for ERA rental assistance.  

Additionally, the American Rescue Plan includes $10 billion in mortgage payment relief including $39 million for low-income households who have fallen behind on certain USDA mortgage program loans. Finally, the stimulus includes $5 billion to help Americans without homes.

Food Help

Another goal of the plan is to help fight food insecurity. According to the USDA, as many as 12 million children and 30 million adults may suffer from food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s more than nine times the amount of children struggling before the pandemic hit. 

If you receive SNAP, you will see a continuation of the 15% increase through September 31, 2021. Additionally, families of public school students may remember getting a Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) card last year with a voucher for groceries to replace meals their children lost during the school closures of the pandemic. This program will be extended through summer, which may mean families across Tulsa will be receiving more vouchers in the future. 

Tax Credit

This is the big boon I think many families don’t realize they’re getting. In addition to the stimulus, qualifying families will be receiving pretty sizable chunks for their tax credit in 2021. The ARP includes an overhaul of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) so that it better benefits low-income families while allowing the payment to be issued as a monthly cash payment. And for families living one catastrophe away from disaster, this will be huge. In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis projects it could lift more than 4 million children out of poverty, following the lead of countries like Ireland and Sweden.

Families like ours with a minimal tax burden were previously eligible for a $1400 per child tax credit, while wealthier families received $2,000 per child. This meant 40% of the tax credit was going to families earning more than $100,000) while only 15% went to families earning less than $30,000. 

Under the current CTC reform, every family, regardless of income, will see a dramatic increase in their tax credit, and this will start almost immediately. For many families working jobs that pay below a living wage, this will quite literally be life-changing. 

Think about it: When both parents are earning $10 an hour or less, even if they are both working full-time, all it takes is one unplanned financial cost to start a Rube-Goldberg of hardship. These families often postpone healthcare and car repairs or replace bad appliances with whatever other used appliances they could afford. For countless American families, this credit will mean decent dental care, health insurance, a better-working car so they can drive a little further to a better-paying job. 

Coupled with this year’s stimulus, the new child tax credit rules will quite literally transform lives for the better. In fact, some experts have projected as much as a 40% decrease in child poverty in the United States under this legislation. 

Here’s how it benefits you.

  • Do I qualify for the CTC increase? 

The first thing to know is that if you have a dependent, you most likely qualify for a CTC. 

The full CTC increase of $3000 per child or $3600 per child under age 6 applies to single filers earning up to $75,000 and married couples earning up to $150,000, at which point the CTC phases down to the base $2000 credit.

Families who are below the current AGI threshold at $200,000 for single filers and $400K for couples should still qualify for the base $2000. At that point, the CTC begins to phase out. For example, according to the Washington Post calculator, a single-parent family making $239,000 would receive a credit of $50 total. 

To calculate your CTC, go here

  • What’s this I am hearing about monthly payments?

The new CTC rules allow the CTC to temporarily be paid out in a combination of monthly payments and an end-of-year payment. The goal is to ensure better paycheck stability for American families during the recovery period. Payments will run from July of this year through December. 

For example, a family of three teenage children under 16 will receive $750 per month and $4500 on their tax refund next year for a total of $9000 in CTC payments. 

  • Are these changes permanent? 

Not necessarily. The changes were designed to last one year, which means the rules could revert after the holidays next year. However, the Biden administration has indicated a willingness to make the rule permanent, and many policy experts are optimistic that public demand could lead to a permanent expansion. 

  • Is there an earnings floor?

Formerly, the CTC included a $2500 earnings floor, which meant if you made less than $2500, you didn’t receive the CTC. 

  • What if I received an advanced overpayment?

If your family’s income or dependents change, there is a chance you could get an overpayment during the advanced payment period. For lower and moderate-income families, having to pay this back could create a significant burden. Gratefully, families with an AGI of $60,000 or less will not be required to repay any such overpayments. 

For families with a 2021 AGI of $120,000 on a joint return or $80,000 on a single return, the entire overpayment would need to be repaid. Those families falling somewhere between would repay the overpayment only partially. 

  • Can I opt-out of advanced payments?

If you’re worried about the possibility of overpayment or you just love the idea of getting a huge chunk of cash at the end of the year, you will be able to opt-out of the monthly payment option. As part of the legislation, the IRS is tasked with creating a portal for taxpayers to calculate their eligibility, track their payments, and opt-out of receiving advanced payments. 

  • How many dependents can I receive CTC for?

You can receive a CTC for every child you claim as a dependent. 

  • Are children age 17 included? 

Yes! Previously, 17-year-olds were excluded from the CTC. However, they are included under the new rules. Even for families that do not receive the full CDC, this could mean a $1500 increase. 

  • What if my child is over 18? 

If your child is over 18, you will not receive the CTC increase. However, you will receive a $500 credit against your taxes at the end of the year.

I hope the above information was helpful. If there was anything I missed or got wrong, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading, everyone, happy stimulus, and have a safe and beautiful week in your nebula!

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