As much as the stimulus cash – officially known as the Economic Impact Payment – looks like easy money, the process isn’t simple for many, including homeless and poor people and those without bank accounts.
And there’s growing concern that some people will lose out on seeing any money.
One big issue continues to bubble up: How will poor people get their stimulus cash?
About 1.5 million people in Michigan, alone, could be at risk of not getting a payment or could need to wait as long as five months to receive the money via a check sent in the mail, according to H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions and the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy at the University of Michigan.
The 2020 Coronavirus Stimulus Payment website – developed by Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan in partnership with Detroit-based nonprofit design firm Civilla – offers a straightforward approach to help vulnerable people and others figure out what they might need to do next to eventually see they money that they’re owed. See: https://poverty.umich.edu/stimulus-checks/.
The website includes information on:
- How to link your prepaid debit card to make sure your direct deposit is automatically deposited onto that card.
- How to sign up for a bank account online to receive a direct deposit.
- What to do if you moved since you last filed your taxes.
What’s unusual about this recovery relief program is that even if you have no earnings – and you weren’t required to file a tax return – you might be able to qualify for a payment.
Not everyone, of course, does qualify. For example, immigrants who don’t have Social Security numbers will not be eligible for checks.
While eligibility for the money is nearly universal, Shaefer said, challenges remain in reaching out to homeless people, poor people and families who move frequently.
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To be sure, many people continue seeing stimulus payments from the Treasury Department directly deposited into their bank accounts. And they didn’t have to do a thing to get up to $1,200 for a single person – and up to $2,400 for a couple without children – into their accounts. Qualifying children who are under age 17 get an extra $500.
The vast majority of Michigan residents are eligible for the stimulus checks made available by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Individuals earning less than $75,000, or married and filing jointly earning less than $150,000, are likely eligible for full payments of $1,200 per adult plus $500 per child under the age of 17. Heads of household making less than $112,500 also are eligible for full stimulus payments.
But gaps and potential barriers exist for people who typically “don’t file taxes, don’t have a bank account or move frequently and don’t have a stable address where the check can be mailed,” according to Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan.
Someone who faces financial troubles and has moved in with a relative may be at risk for not getting the money, if they don’t take action, Shaefer said.
“Our email box is getting flooded with people asking questions,” Shaefer said.
Efforts are being made to reach vulnerable people through various groups and communities, including working with providing information relating to stimulus payments on the City of Detroit website.
If someone doesn’t have a bank account, for example, an account could still be opened up online and the City of Detroit site lists “safe and affordable accounts” where someone might be able to get a stimulus payment quickly via direct deposit instead of waiting up to five months to receive a stimulus check.
If you don’t want to sign up for a bank account, you can link your prepaid debit card instead.
Shaefer said it’s important for lower-income households and others to realize that stimulus payments will not impact other benefits, including food stamps, health care, the Earned Income Tax Credit or unemployment benefits.
Stimulus checks are treated as a tax credit. As a result, your stimulus payment will not influence the benefits you receive now or in the future.
Some efforts are being made to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.
The Internal Revenue Service, for example, announced Wednesday that recipients of Supplemental Security Income or SSI will automatically receive automatic Economic Impact Payments at some point down the road.
“SSI recipients will receive a $1,200 Economic Impact Payment with no further action needed on their part. The IRS projects the payments for this group will go out no later than early May,” the IRS said.
The IRS said moving SSI recipients into the automatic payment category follows weeks of extensive cooperative work between the Social Security Administration, Treasury and IRS, as well as the Bureau of Fiscal Services.
“Since SSI recipients typically aren’t required to file tax returns, the IRS had to work extensively with these other government agencies to determine a way to quickly and accurately deliver Economic Impact Payments to this group,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement.
“Additional programming work remains, but this step simplifies the process for SSI recipients to quickly and easily receive these $1,200 payments automatically.”
The IRS has a separate online tool called the Non-filers: Enter Payment Info tool. This tool can be used by eligible U.S. citizens or permanent residents who had gross income that did not exceed $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples) for 2019. And they were not otherwise required to file a federal income tax return for 2019, and didn’t plan to do so.
Additional information is available at www.irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here for those who have a valid Social Security number.
The IRS also has an online tool called “Get My Payment” that can help people track their payments, and many people but not all can provide direct deposit information there if necessary.
As of Thursday, though, the IRS said the Get My Payment tool did not have information yet if you receive Social Security, Railroad Retirement Board Form 1099, Supplemental Security Income or veteran benefits.
It’s been a confusing time for many taxpayers as some receive stimulus money quickly and others struggle to try to figure out when their money will arrive. Unfortunately, many people who may desperately need the money could fall through the cracks without a little extra help.
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Susan Tompor on Twitter @tompor.
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