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‘This is sheer economic waste’: Our $1,200 stimulus ‘gift cards’ should have gone to people who need them. Why did we get them instead?


Dear Moneyist,

My husband is 82 years old. I am 83. We are retired. We are neither Democrats nor Republicans.

Last year, about midsummer, we both received $1,200 stimulus payments. They were not in the form of checks, but rather they were in the form of gift cards to buy “stuff.” We have been retired since 2003. We planned our retirement during all of our working years.

We do not light our fireplace with $100 bills, but we are comfortable. We asked ourselves: “Why were we receiving stimulus checks?” This money should have gone to people who had suffered loss of income, and needed it to pay for essentials.

I spent the better part of three days trying to find out how to convert these gift cards to cash so that we could distribute the money to people or institutions where the money was needed. It was a tedious, complicated and convoluted process.

Eventually, I was able to convert these cards to funds deposited to our individual bank accounts. We distributed the funds to our church, which is hurting because the Bishop has closed all of the churches in the Diocese because of COVID-19, and plate collections have diminished.

The Moneyist: My wife has a degenerative neurological disease. My father-in-law wants to put her in a facility — and take over our finances

By now you are asking, “So what is the question.” Here it is: Why are these funds sent to people who did not suffer any loss of income? THIS IS SHEER ECONOMIC WASTE! There are obviously many people who have lost their jobs, being evicted from their homes, and unable to feed their families.

So how much more money would be available for these people who are GENUINELY IN DESPERATE NEED OF THESE FUNDS if the agency that is distributing this money would stop sending it to the people WHO DO NOT NEED IT and sending it to people who need it just to survive.

How many people in this country are receiving Social Security checks and surviving who are not financially affected by COVID-19, and who are also receiving these stimulus checks, especially as they were heretofore managing without them?

We know MANY people who have a very comfortable retirement just like us who received these stimulus payments. The courtesy of a reply would be greatly appreciated.

Comfortably Retired

The Moneyist:My husband is a felon and his work plummeted. He did not file a 2019 tax return. Will we get a second $600 stimulus and $1,400 check under a President Biden?

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here.

Dear Comfortable,

Thank you for your letter, CAPITALS and all. I received another email from a reader recently, asking the same question in a different way, but it elicited a different response from me than your letter. Here’s why: He — like you — was one of those people who is living comfortably, but — unlike you — he wanted a stimulus because his colleague had one and he didn’t think it was fair, and lamented all the people he believed should NOT be receiving one. He was peering over his garden fence at those he believed were more fortunate; you are peering at those who are less fortunate.

And so KUDOS on you for decommissioning those gift cards and passing them onto your local church, so they can help people who are more in need than you. The problem you raise is twofold: The scale of this problem and the inability of this, or frankly any government, to establish the assets and savings of people to whom they are sending checks. And the speed with which they need to send money to those who are most in need without it falling into the wrong hands (hence, the debit cards). The government is trying to avert a broader, even more pronounced economic crisis.

Take heart that most people DO need these checks. It’s hard for presidents to prove you have helped to avert a Great Depression as some economists had feared last year. It is an Orwellian conundrum, but one that most leaders are usually happy to leave in their wake.

The Moneyist:I’m a single mom. I take my kids on trips. My mother says that’s crazy and I should be saving for a house. What do you think?

Health professionals have roundly criticized soon-to-be former President Donald Trump’s defiant refusal to wear a mask, and his decision to leave it up to the states to institute a patchwork of pandemic responses, among other criticisms, citing the fact that the U.S. now accounts for 20% of COVID-related deaths even though it has 4% of the world’s population. Still, there has NOT been a Great Depression, likely helped in part by his administration’s $1,200 and $600 stimulus checks.

Former President Barack Obama, who took office during the Great Recession, can also lay claim to such an unanswerable “did he or didn’t he avert a Great Depression” puzzle. He and Trump have that in common, at least. President-elect Biden would like Congress to roll out $1,400 checks because, he believes that BOLD action is required to keep millions of people in their homes and off the streets. Is it imperfect? Yes. Should people who don’t need the stimulus return it? Sure, why not.

What is NOT solvable here is the ability of the Trump OR Biden administrations to forensically analyze your finances in double-quick time before the bottom falls out of America’s financial future. What IS solvable is what people like you do when they receive checks they can do without. BRAVO.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
 group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.


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