About 12 million Americans risk missing out on the stimulus payments provided through the recent CARES Act because they don’t normally file taxes or receive federal government benefits.
While some 159 million checks have already been delivered by the government, analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has identified a group of predominantly low-income people who are eligible to receive the payments but are in danger of never receiving the money they are due. With household debt already rising across the U.S., the fear is that those who are being hardest hit by the pandemic will be the ones to miss out.
Who could miss out?
The group identified as vulnerable by the CBPP includes very low-income families with children, people who have been disconnected from work opportunities for a long period, and many low-income adults not raising children in their home.
Up to nine million of those in question - or roughly three in four - already receive financial assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) or Medicaid. The report also said that this group of non-filers are “disproportionately people of color because they are likelier to have lower incomes due to historical racism and ongoing bias and discrimination.” Of the nine million, 27% are Black, while another 19% are Latino.
The other three million eligible people who are likely to miss out don’t normally file tax returns, but also do not receive state or federal benefits.
What has been delivered so far?
Under the coronavirus stimulus scheme, payments of up to $1,200 are being made to eligible individuals, with joint-filers receiving up to $2,400. An additional $500 per qualifying child is also paid to families.
As of June 4, the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had delivered 120 million electronic payments directly to individuals' bank accounts, a further 35 million via a paper check in the mail, and some 3.7 million by prepaid debit card holding their payment.
These payments have been made to those who have filed taxes for either 2018 or 2019 or receive certain federally administered benefits, such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Railroad Retirement, or Veterans Affairs pension or disability benefits.
However, the automatic payment method misses about 12 million people because they aren’t required to file federal income tax returns due to their low incomes and they do not participate in one of the specified, federally administered programs.
How will awareness be raised?
In order to make sure the 12 million identified undertake the steps required, the CBPP has called for “an aggressive outreach program” at state and local levels to raise awareness of the scheme among eligible individuals.
Community organizations such as community action agencies, faith-based organizations, and religious institutions are highlighted as key avenues for helping to relay the necessary information, along with organizations providing critical services such as food banks and health care.
“The health and human services agencies that administer SNAP and Medicaid are uniquely positioned to reach, using established communication channels, the subgroup of nine million people who participate in those two programs,” said the report. “Governors and state agencies can also do much to reach the other three million eligible people, who generally do not receive state or federal benefits. Public education efforts and partnerships with key stakeholder groups, such as service providers for people experiencing homelessness, will be critical to connecting people to the $1,200 payments.”
What to do if you haven’t received a stimulus payment
If you are among the estimated 35 million people yet to receive the stimulus payment, it might be that your check is already in the mail.
However, there will also be many others - as just highlighted - who will need to check in with the IRS to ensure they receive the payment they are due.
In most cases, filing a 2019 tax return will ensure the stimulus check finds its way to you. The deadline for filing taxes is now just a month away, but shouldn’t pose a problem, particularly if you use the best tax software to help get everything in order.
For those who don’t usually file taxes, you will need to sign up to use the non-filer tool at IRS.gov before October 15 to make sure the service has all the details it needs to make your payment.
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