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Coronavirus stimulus checks will help Tampa Bay, but only for so long

Most Americans will be receiving a one-time payment of $1,200 with an additional $500 for each child
FILE - This May 8, 2008, file photo shows blank checks on an idle press at the Philadelphia Regional Financial Center, which disburses payments on behalf of federal agencies, in Philadelphia. The IRS is delaying tax refunds for millions of low-income families as the agency steps up efforts to combat identity theft and fraud. Starting in 2017, a federal law requires the tax agency to delay refunds until Feb. 15 for people who claim the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit. The IRS says processing times will delay most of the refunds until the end of February. [MATT ROURKE  |  AP]
FILE - This May 8, 2008, file photo shows blank checks on an idle press at the Philadelphia Regional Financial Center, which disburses payments on behalf of federal agencies, in Philadelphia. The IRS is delaying tax refunds for millions of low-income families as the agency steps up efforts to combat identity theft and fraud. Starting in 2017, a federal law requires the tax agency to delay refunds until Feb. 15 for people who claim the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit. The IRS says processing times will delay most of the refunds until the end of February. [MATT ROURKE | AP]

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The numbers aren’t looking good for Yomara Matos. The salon she worked at as a hair stylist closed, bills keep coming and she still has student loan debt to pay.

But Matos, 42, of Zephyrhills may soon join millions of Americans in getting some financial assistance through one of the nation’s largest economic stimulus plans to date.

Yomara Matos, 42, from Zephyrhills was working as a hair stylist when her salon closed due to concern of spreading the coronavirus. She now hopes the proposed government stimulus check will help tide her over. [Courtesy of Yomara Matos]

Late Wednesday the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency relief bill that includes a one-time payment of about $1,200 to individual taxpayers.

The check, which is an advanced tax credit against 2020 earnings, is not taxable and is calculated through adjusted gross income reported in 2019 tax returns or 2018 returns for those who haven’t filed their latest taxes, said Justin Wallace, tax attorney with the Hill Ward Henderson firm in Tampa.

Individual taxpayers who earned less than $75,000 in annual income will be eligible for the full $1,200 and an additional $500 for each child they claim as a dependent. Joint tax filers in this category would get $2,400.

Those who earned more than $99,000 get no check. Those with income somewhere in the middle would see about $50 deducted from the check for each $1,000 earned above $75,000, Wallace said. Those with social security, disability and retirement payments would also qualify, the Washington Post reports.

Checks would be deposited directly to bank accounts if direct deposit was set up for the last tax returns. Otherwise they will be mailed.

As to how best to use the one time credit, Tampa Bay residents already have plans. In a social media survey posted by the Tampa Bay Times folks largely said the money would go toward paying off bills, rent, food and other necessities.

Jennifer Bushnell, 47, who lives in St. Petersburg and is now working from home for Duke Energy, said the check would help her with bills she’s been juggling. But as someone who is still on a payroll, she worries if it’ll make a difference for others.

“For the folks who lost their jobs I don’t think that’s enough,” she said.

Jennifer Allen, 51, in New Port Richey, frets over her husband’s fate as a supervisor at a small auto repair shop. The family is fine for now but it’s unclear how long her husband will hold on to the job. Then there’s the payment for the new car they bought back when this year seemed off to a good start financially. And the need for a new computer so her daughter can continue her online classes after the old one died.

For Allen, the stimulus check would be a one-time boon the way the 2008 tax rebates given out during the recession helped with paying off bills.

“We have to do something to jumpstart the economy,” Allen said.

Those in vulnerable positions like Janell Longa, 52, who works as an IT temp in St. Petersburg, can rely on the check to offset things like paid sick leave, which Longa doesn’t have.

“It means I don’t have to dip into my savings,” she said.

But others like Jackie Matthews, 38, fret over the endgame.

Matthews of Spring Hill still has her job at a fast food restaurant, but her hours got cut. Her brother, who worked as a chef, lost his job. Most of her family is in the precarious restaurant industry.

While the check would immediately help with bills and supplies for homeschooling, she’s more preoccupied with how long social distancing will last, and how quickly customers would be willing to eat out again once the virus is brought under control.

In the spirit of planning ahead, Matos in Zephyrhills plans to only use a portion of the check on basic necessities and save as much of it as she can.

“We’re not sure when we’ll be going back to work,” she said.

The coronavirus stimulus bill must now go to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.

• • •

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