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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Some use stimulus checks to pay it forward

I’ve been thinking about the economic impact payments many of us have been receiving from Uncle Sam, designed to help us mitigate the economic impacts the coronavirus pandemic has brought down upon our heads.

So, what have we been doing with the money?

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 Relief Package has been providing middle-class and lower-income Americans with checks of $1,400. There’s been a lot of criticism – not nearly enough money for those who have been without work for too long due to no fault of their own, and, from the other side of things, way too much money for the government to be handing out, especially to middle-income families who may not be in dire straits – you know, people who may choose to tuck the money away rather than recirculate it back into the economy.

I’ve done my own little survey, asking friends, colleagues and family just what they have done or are doing now with their piece of the economic impact payments, past and present. Granted, those I reached out to are pretty much middle-income people, some with debt and financial issues and some not, some quite securely in the middle class and a few just barely in there. Not a scientific polling, to be sure, but still informative.

What caused me to do this came from a conversation with a friend, a retired educator, who, along with his wife, gave their checks to people who they felt needed them more than they did. My big-hearted friend has grown children and lots of grandchildren, so it’s not like the money couldn’t have been spent within the family.

What he said was this: “We consider ourselves very fortunate and have the resources to live the life we want without too much strain … so we gave one of the checks to the woman who cleans our home, a single mother still raising a family … and to the lady who cuts our hair, who has been dealing with a number of physical challenges.”

In both cases, those recipients are independent contractors who have dealt recently with deaths in their families and have nothing to fall back on when work doesn’t come their way.

“From our perspective, these are the kind of people the relief effort should be most focused on,” my friend said.

So he paid it forward.

I was surprised and pleased at how many people in my survey have given all or portions of their stimulus checks to others and to assorted charities and worthy causes. And spent locally.

One friend’s family decided to treat themselves while helping the local economy. They are using the stimulus money for restaurant dining (takeout), “helping the local restaurants in this difficult time and giving ourselves something to look forward to once or twice a week.” A guy I know made extra contributions to nonprofit organizations he supports and bought himself some new binoculars.

Another friend tells me that when she gets takeout food, “I tip more than I normally do.” She has increased her regular donations to the Union Gospel Mission and added the Salvation Army Northwest to her monthly giving. And she’s given extra to SpokAnimal and Spokane Humane Society. And with the current check, she was able to finally replace her ailing 35-year-old washer and dryer – purchased at a local business.

Several friends have given to agencies dealing with hunger in the community – SCC Food Drive, Spokane Valley Food Bank and so many others.

A work colleague has great-granddaughters who worked in after-school programs in school districts in their communities, and who lost their jobs. “I sent all my checks to them, to pay rent ahead and get some peace of mind. They are thrifty women who know how to stretch a dollar, so I’m glad I could be of some help.”

Another friend, who expressed gratitude because she retained her full-time job and medical benefits during the pandemic, said the family did spend a bit of the stimulus to do engine work on her husband’s vintage truck. Some money went into her son’s college fund, but with the first stimulus check, each family member donated to food banks and animal welfare groups.

A college friend gave a donation to her local hospice society, which had provided her and her husband great support in his final days and where she continues to receive grief counseling.

A man I served with on a nonprofit board paid down some medical bills and set some funds aside to supplement the family’s emergency fund. A cousin put her checks into her savings account, with use to be determined at a later date. Another paid credit card bills and her Avista bill. And another spent $800 on brakes for her car and the rest for spending money for a vacation trip her daughter gifted to her.

And a colleague of mine has distributed funds among SNAP, the Bing Crosby Theater Renovation Fund, a fellowship at EWU, KSPS, The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund and various smaller charities. “When we get the latest stimulus check, we will donate it also.”

A gardening friend, who with her husband, worked for every nickel they ever got, said it best: “We both feel very blessed to be comfortable in our finances right now. Not that we have an overabundance of money, but we don’t have to worry about how to pay bills or feed our families, as so many people have to do during this pandemic.”

Yes, there is a certain ease in being able to do these things when you are (mostly) up to date with your bills and feel reasonably secure. But financial security does not necessarily lead to financial generosity.

My friends were eligible to receive stimulus checks. How happy I am that it was instinctual for so many of them to turn around and pay much of that gift forward.

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Stefanie Pettit can be reached at upwindsailor@comcast.net

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