Hundreds Of Thousands Of Low-Income People Didn't Get Stimmy Checks For Their Kids, Oopsies
When Congress passed the CARES Act to send every American $1200, and another $500 for each of their kids, a lot of people probably thought that meant that every American would be receiving a stimmy check for $1200, and another $500 for each of their kids. Haha, talk about naive! Turns out that literally hundreds of thousands of people who qualified for the payments never received any stimmy for their children, thanks to the labyrinthine system the IRS set up to get payments to low-income people who don't normally file income taxes because they're too poor. Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary has the details, and they aren't pretty. Then again, the people hurt most by this don't have lobbies, cable news shows, or even Twitter accounts, so can they really be said to be full Americans anyway?
A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the IRS made $1.4 billion in stimulus payments to dead people. The report also revealed that from April 10 to May 17, some stimulus payment calculations did not include additional money for qualifying children, even though the recipients had correctly submitted information about their dependents to the IRS. The incomplete payments went to people who aren't required to file a federal tax return because of their low income.
IRS officials initially told the GAO that up to 450,000 low-income people did not receive the money they were due for dependent children. During testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig revised the figure down to 365,000.
Yes, we understand that in any big program, there will be mistakes. Still, it's jarring that dead Americans made out better than poor ones did, which is totally just a coincidence of how the stimmy payments were processed, and not a larger metaphor about American political priorities.
The good news, maybe, is that the IRS says it's working on it, and hopes to get all the missing payments for dependent children out by the end of this month.
Oh, but that's not the happy end to the story, you see, because that money's only going to people who sent the IRS information on dependent kids that the agency somehow screwed up. There's a bigger problem, says Singletary: there are "still potentially millions of other low-income Americans — non-filers — who may not get the extra $500 for children until next year."
That's because lots of people with very low incomes, whose primary income comes from government benefits like Social Security (retirement benefits, as well as survivor or disability benefits), or federal Railroad Retirement benefits, don't have to file taxes at all, and so the IRS didn't have their dependents' information. The agency did automatically send out the $1200 stimmy to most beneficiaries earlier this year, but their dependents weren't in the system at all. So the IRS set up a special online non-filers tool for them to submit that information. Thing is, people had to know the site existed to use it, and the government wasn't exactly publicizing it.
Oh, yes, it gets worse, too:
In a much-criticized move, the IRS issued a special alert on April 20 on its website giving the group around 48 hours to claim their $500 payments. If they missed that very short window, they would have to wait until 2021 to get the money. Keep in mind that there was no direct communication with any of the federal benefit recipients about the tight deadline.
The IRS set another deadline of May 5 for people who receive Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs benefits to claim their dependent children.
And as Jennifer Burdick, an attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, told Singletary, lots of people had no idea they needed to fill out a form to get the payments for their dependents. And online anything is a really shitty way to do anything aimed at low-income folks, who don't tend to live online: "A lot of my clients also are not going to be able to fill out an online computer tax form. This form is very hard to use on a cellphone."
This is where we remind you yet again that the "digital divide" isn't just about who can watch YouTube or play Animal Crossing.
And to make matters worse, some of the late payments won't be processed until next year, and by then, some kids
will age out of eligibility to receive stimulus funds, pointed out former taxpayer advocate Nina Olson.
"They've got the discretion," Olson said in an interview. "The statute doesn't say, 'make only one payment in 2020.' Some of these people are going to experience irreparable harm because they will lose eligibility for that payment and not because they did anything wrong."
Singletary didn't have any trouble finding people who missed out on the deadline to apply, because how were they supposed to know? They thought "everyone gets a check" meant them too, but they didn't read up on the details of how the program worked, probably because poor people just aren't very responsible when it comes to the intricacies of government processes that weren't designed with them in mind.
We're reminded of that bit in the opening of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where Arthur Dent finds out his house was slated to be bulldozed for a highway, and a bureaucrat tells him the plans were on display for months.
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well, the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard.'"
Thank goodness there weren't any similar oversights in getting "small business" loans out to the big lobbying firms and advocates for small government.
This is the sort of thing the next coronavirus stimmy bill ought to address, if Mitch McConnell ever decides people he doesn't give two shits about might be taken notice of.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.