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Federal Relief Check Helps Some People Pay Late Bills

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The magic of direct deposit in the time of the coronavirus - one moment, an empty bank account; the next, 1,200 bucks from the IRS, ready for spending.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That cash infusion is courtesy of Congress and the relief package it passed last month. People who make under $75,000 a year get the full $1,200 - smaller checks for those who make more, up to $99,000 a year.

KELLY: And with 80 million Americans getting their payments last week, we wanted to see what people are spending that money on.

ROCIO TIRADO: I was just checking my account, and I saw 2,200 in my account. And believe it or not, it's kind of like a relief.

SHAPIRO: Rocio Tirado (ph) is 40. She lives in Kenner, La. You get an extra $500 for each kid you have at home, and she is a single mom to two teenage boys.

TIRADO: And they do eat a lot, and they're at home all day. And you just - you know, it's a little hard.

SHAPIRO: She got the relief money last Wednesday.

KELLY: Tirado still has her job, but she sells advertising for a Spanish-language newspaper in New Orleans, and her income is based on commission. Advertising at the paper has cratered.

TIRADO: I talked to the boys. I said, look; it's - this is no vacation. You cannot just go and eat. You have to be very careful. We have to be very careful because we don't know how long it's going to last our savings.

SHAPIRO: With the money, she decided to pay her overdue mortgage for April, and she also got her garbage disposal fixed, something that benefited her and the repair man.

TIRADO: I'm from Peru. And it's very hard to complain as well because this is something that nobody was prepared for. What can you complain about it? I mean, you have other countries that they're not getting anything, and it's even worse. So we have to be a little grateful for what we get.

ALISSA HUSKEY: Three times a day, I check the status check link. Every morning, I wake up and I check that. I check it sometimes in the middle of the day, and I check it before I go to sleep.

KELLY: That is Alissa Huskey (ph). She's 28 years old and lives in Columbia, Mo. She's one of the millions of Americans who has not gotten a check yet. She runs an in-home child care with her mom.

HUSKEY: And we take care of 10 kids on a day-to-day basis - or we did before of all this happened. When a toddler needs a hug, a toddler needs a hug. You can't social distance a preschooler, so we've been closed for about three weeks now.

SHAPIRO: Huskey did qualify for a loan through another program created by Congress's relief bill, but she says that money will only carry her for eight weeks.

HUSKEY: Honestly, I don't know what we'll do if we're not able to open back up in eight weeks. You know, surely, in eight weeks we'll be able to at least partially open back up again.

KELLY: So what's she going to spend the relief check on?

HUSKEY: Bills - just - I don't - you know, none of us are claiming to use it for anything but bills. My mom and dad are planning on using it to help my siblings with their bills. But yeah, we don't have - we're not going to be putting it into savings. We're not going to be buying anything fun. We're going to be paying our bills.

SHAPIRO: Scott Severs (ph) is 52. He lives in Longmont, Colo., where he's a natural resources technician for the city. He still has his job. His wife does, too, so he's thinking differently about the check he received last week.

SCOTT SEVERS: I definitely thought, oh, wow. Well, that - that's an unexpected benefit. But, you know, I thought about it more and thought about, basically, will it really benefit me? And at this time, it wasn't money that I necessarily needed because of the emergency funds that I've taken care of throughout my life, so I started thinking a lot sooner about charities that are meaningful to our family. And maybe that check could benefit them.

KELLY: He picked three charities - Meals on Wheels, the local Humane Society and a local wildlife rehabilitation group.

SEVERS: I divided it equally three ways, so $400 each. I think it's really important that people make that choice for themselves. I definitely feel comfortable enough that I could make that choice. And if it comes again, I will have to decide again if it makes sense or not.

SHAPIRO: An uncertain future, he says, means helping now but planning for later.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.