The U.S. Cities Where the CARES Act Payments Help the Most

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As a way to ease the staggering economic impact caused by the pandemic, earlier this year Congress passed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which included cash payments for qualifying individuals.

For many, the relief payments doled out by the U.S. government served as much-needed financial assistance during an economically turbulent time. With millions of consumers facing unemployment amid the pandemic, the funds might have even helped put food on the table.

The standard amount of the economic impact checks, though — $1,200 per adult and $500 for each child under 17 — stretches more in some cities than others. Using the most current data available from the 2017-2018 Consumer Expenditure survey, MagnifyMoney estimated how much an economic impact payment – also referred to by some as “stimulus checks” – of $2,900 for a family of three (assuming two adults receiving the full $1,200 each plus $500 for one child) would stretch in 22 U.S. cities.

Key findings

  • Among 22 major U.S. cities, the estimated stimulus check of $2,900 for a family of three stretches the most in Tampa, Fla. In Tampa, economic impact payments totaling $2,900 can cover 21 days of expenses.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the estimated $2,900 check only covers just 11 days of expenses in Washington, D.C. Average monthly expenses in the nation’s capital are 81% higher than those in Tampa, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • Among the 22 cities analyzed, typical monthly expenses average $5,859, according to BLS data. This means that a $2,900 stimulus check covers a little less than 15 days’ worth of expenses.
  • The two major household expenses — food and shelter — account for an average of $2,772 across all 22 cities. Housing costs an average of $2,034 per month, while food rings in at $738.
  • In six cities – Boston, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. – a $2,900 stimulus check would cover housing expenses or food for a month, but not both. In the other 16 cities, $2,900 would cover both average food and shelter costs for 30 days.
  • Unsurprisingly, San Francisco has the highest monthly housing costs, which average $2,649. Seattle has the most expensive monthly food bill, at an average of $951 for a family of three.
  • The average monthly cost of housing is lowest in Tampa, at $1,489 per month. Food is least expensive in Miami, where typical monthly food costs total $564.

The cities where the stimulus checks help the most

The cities where a $2,900 stimulus check stretches the most all boast lower housing and food expenditures. Still, even in the top five cities where the stimulus checks stretch the most, we found that the funds provided by the stimulus checks, also known as relief checks, are not enough to cover more than 30 days’ worth of shelter and food expenses.

Overall, we found that a $2,900 stimulus check stretches the most in Tampa, Fla., where it covers 21 days of living expenses. Tampa boasts low monthly expenditures of $4,199, which includes an average of $602 on food each month and $1,489 on monthly housing costs.

Following Tampa is another Florida city – Miami – where a $2,900 stimulus check would last a family of three an average of 18 days. Miami’s average monthly expenditures of $4,796 include $1,788 spent on housing and $564 spent on food.

Honolulu trails Miami as the city in which a $2,900 stimulus check would stretch the most, covering an average of 17 days. Hawaii’s average monthly expenditures come out to $5,059, which includes $1,920 spent on housing and $915 on food.

Rounding out the top five cities where the relief funds stretch the most is a tie between a slew of cities. In Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro and Phoenix, the economic impact payments would cover an average of 16 days’ worth of expenses.

The cities where the stimulus checks help the least

Our study discovered that a $2,900 stimulus check for a family of three would not even cover two weeks’ worth of expenses in several U.S. cities — a stark look at how the much-needed financial relief falls short in a number of expensive hubs.

Of all 22 U.S. cities considered, a relief check for a family of three would extend the shortest amount of time in Washington, D.C., where it would cover only 11 days of living expenses. Washington D.C. has average monthly expenditures of $7,593 — well above the $2,900 stimulus check that a family of three would receive. The nation’s capital has average monthly expenditures of $934 on food and $2,573 on housing.

Our study reveals that a relief check for a family of three would cover just 12 days of living expenses in Seattle, only one day more than in Washington, D.C. Seattle’s monthly expenditures average out to $7,072, which includes $951 per month on food — the highest of all the cities we analyzed — as well as $2,439 on housing.

Meanwhile, the relief payments would cover 13 days of expenses in San Diego, Boston and San Francisco. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, Denver and Baltimore, the $2,900 also barely cracks the two-week threshold, covering an average of 14 days of living expenses in each of those cities.

How many days’ worth of expenses the stimulus checks cover, on average

Our study found that for people who have lost their income to the COVID-19 crisis and have little to no savings, the economic impact payments alone likely won’t offer much relief. On average, a $2,900 check for a family of three covers just 15 days of living expenses in the U.S.

In fact, in six U.S. cities, a $2,900 check would not even cover one month of just basic needs — food and shelter. In Boston, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., the average monthly costs of food and shelter are more than $2,900, meaning residents relying on those funds to stay afloat would be forced to choose whether to spend that money on food or shelter.

More financial relief might be on the way, though, as a second round of economic impact payments is currently up for debate. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act also provides other types of temporary financial relief aside from the economic impact payments, including expanded unemployment benefits and waived penalties on early 401(k) withdrawals. If you’re struggling to stay afloat, explore all of the options that are available to you.


MagnifyMoney calculated how much the estimated economic impact payment of $2,900 for a family of three would cover in 22 representative U.S. cities (20 continental U.S. metros with populations greater than 2.5 million, plus Honolulu and Anchorage, Alaska) based on the most current data available from the Consumer Expenditure Survey 2017-2018.