Who Received Stimulus Checks? How Much Was Spent?

Did You Miss Your Stimulus Check?

Older woman reading on sofa
This woman just realized she received a stimulus check. Cultura/Seb Oliver/Riser/Getty Images

In 2009, the Economic Stimulus Act sent out $13 billion in stimulus checks to recipients of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and veterans’ benefits. It was a portion of the $787 billion budgeted in Fiscal Year 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Congress passed the ARRA to end the 2008 financial crisis. The government’s goal was that recipients would spend the $13 billion.

That would be a quick, direct way to jumpstart economic growth.

When Did Stimulus Checks Go Out?

The government sent economic stimulus checks of $250 each to more than 52 million Social Security and SSI recipients in May 2009. If you did not receive your check, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or contact your local Social Security office. For more information, see Social Security.

Stimulus checks were also sent to some recipients of Veterans Affairs or Railroad Retirement Board benefits. If you did not receive your check, call 1-800-827-1000 for the VA or 1-877-772-5772 for the RRB or contact your local office. Those were one-time payments for 2009. 

Did Everyone Receive Stimulus Checks?

The Act was unusual in that most taxpayers did not receive checks. Instead, they received tax rebates. Instead of waiting until the April tax deadline, their withholding was cut. The Obama administration argued that they would receive benefits quicker.

The average taxpayer received a tax cut in 2009 of $400 per individual or $800 per family. They did not receive stimulus checks. Instead, the tax cuts appeared in each paycheck starting in June 2009. Each employee saw about 6 percent less withholding. 

The Stimulus Act gave them more than $20 billion in income tax credits for the 2009 tax year.

It budgeted $5 billion for other tax credits. There was $14 billion allocated for extended COBRA copayments for the millions of newly-unemployed workers.

In total, the Act budgeted $65 billion for stimulus checks, credits for taxpayers and credits for the unemployed.

What Other Stimulus Benefits Did Taxpayers Get in 2009?

The ARRA didn’t rely just on checks. It targeted funds to stimulate spending on education, child care and big purchases. The goal was to stimulate auto and home sales. The child tax credit was expanded for the working poor. In addition, the earned-income tax credit was expanded for families with three or more children.

ARRA added a $2,500 tax credit for college tuition. Many of the newly-unemployed took advantage of this credit to update their skills or change careers. It budgeted more than $1 billion for an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers. It allowed taxpayers to deduct sales taxes on new car purchases.

It set aside almost $1 billion to suspend taxes on unemployment benefits. It also budgeted $70 billion to continue the Alternative Minimum Tax shelter. In 2009, $2 billion was budgeted.

Stimulus Checks in 2008

The year before ARRA, the Bush administration also sent out stimulus checks to battle the recession.

It spent $168 billion in total. It rebated taxes on the first $6,000 of income for individuals or first $12,000 of income for couples. Stimulus checks were mailed out as follows:

  • Individual taxpayers received up to $600.
  • Married couples were eligible for up to $1,200.
  • Households with children received $300 per dependent child.
  • Rebates were reduced for higher incomes ($75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples).

Twenty million retirees on Social Security and disabled veterans also received checks for $300 ($600 for couples) if they earned at least $3,000 in benefits in 2007. For more, see Bush Economic Stimulus Package.

Which Worked Better?

The ARRA sent out less than the $96 billion in stimulus checks distributed by the Bush tax rebate. But, the ARRA disbursed the checks between May and October 2009.

That's two months faster than the Bush stimulus checks. They were sent out between May and December 2008. 

That put money in people's hands sooner. It should have turned the recession around quicker. Unfortunately, many people didn't realize they had received a tax cut. They expected checks in the mail. As a result, they didn't spend the extra money because it didn't feel like a bonus.

The self-employed and others who made estimated payments didn't get their tax cuts until April 2010. They received a total of $20 billion when they paid their 2009 taxes. They also received tax relief in 2010. That totaled $66 billion. 

Many of these small business owners didn't notice the tax cut. By the time they received it, the recession was over. They should have gotten a tax break sooner, so they could have used it to hire workers.