Every U.S. citizen who earned less than $ 75,000 – or $ 150,000 in total for married couples – in 2019 or 2020 has been eligible for the three rounds of pandemic stimulus: the $ 1,200 check last spring, $ 600 check in Decemberand $ 1,400 checks on the way right now.
It’s a significant amount of money, enough to be life-changing for people who save up for a deposit for an apartment, finally get the necessary medical care, pay for the transition to a better job, or dealing with unexpected life events. In the latest stimulus the bill, there is even more money for everyone who is entitled to unemployment and everyone with children who are supported.
But for the people who need the checks the most, they can be hard to get. This is because the primary mechanism by which the government sends checks to people is through their tax return – that is, stimulus checks are sent automatically to households that have filed tax returns. But many of America’s poorest households do not file taxes because their income is low enough that it is not required. In the autumn, ProPublica assessed that 9 million Americans who were eligible for a stimulus check did not receive one, mostly because their income was so low that they did not file taxes.
And for people who are experiencing homelessness, the problem is particularly acute. In addition to not having filed taxes, most people probably do not have a fixed address to which checks can be sent, a bank account to which they can be deposited, and identification documents needed to prove their eligibility.
But people who experience homelessness is entitled to stimulus check. And getting them these checks would be a much needed boost.
How to get the stimulus check if you do not file a tax or have a fixed address
The unavailability of checks for those who need them most is a depressing situation, but advice has been circulating online about what to do about it. A post by activist Hamdia Ahmed has been shared more than 100,000 times:
I was really sorry that homeless people did not have access to the $ 1,400 stimulus check.
I just found out. If you are homeless, you can go to a tax return office where they file something called EIP return. They will put the money on a debit card after.
– Hamdia Ahmed (@hamdia_ahmed) March 15, 2021
As Ahmed says, right now, filing a tax return is probably the best way to get checks if you missed something. (EIP is just the official word for stimulus checks – they are called “economic impact payments.”)
Until November 2020, the IRS had a “non-filing tool” available for people to claim stimulus checks without filing taxes, but it online the tool is now shut down. Now the only remaining way to get checks is by claiming them as a rebate on your taxes. The tax deadline is usually April 15, but the IRS has announced plans to postpone it due to the pandemic.
There is free online tools to file taxes for anyone with less than $ 72,000 in income, and the IRS also offers free, personalized utilities for those in need: Voluntary income tax assistance and tax advice for the elderly, which runs until 15 April 2021 (and may run longer because 15 April the tax deadline has been extended with one month). There is also tax returns that will help in exchange for a portion of the discount – though you should look for one that takes a reasonable cut because some will charge hundreds of dollars more than others will. If you do not have a bank account to which the check can be deposited directly, it can be sent to you as a payment card.
There are also plenty of community organizations that are successfully working to get people checks. ProPublica covered Angel Resource Connection, which sets up tables outdoors in the Seattle area to help homeless people fill out IRS non-file tools. The queues were hours long because each person required about 20 minutes of one-on-one attention from a volunteer to navigate the glitchy shape.
While local organizations help people experiencing homelessness get their stimulus money, United Way has one useful online guide and a national hotline: (844) -322-3639. And according to MarketWatchIf you do not have a fixed address, you can have your stimulus money sent to your local post office, homeless shelter, or religious place of worship.
So there is a way to get the check even if you are homeless. However, filling out public documents without a fixed address, access to a computer or official ID is still a barrier for many people.
The frustrating situation has created a void that organizations have stepped into – sometimes with questionable results.
In California, a company called Docuprep offered to give homeless people their $ 1,200 stimulus checks, giving a customer $ 800 and to keep $ 400 to himself, a big cut. But as news reports have shown, that experience has not gone smoothly. More than 60 percent of homeless applications were rejected by the IRS because names and information did not match what the government had in the archive. Simple spelling mistakes, name changes and other data mismatches can delay the process of getting a return approved and getting a check.
But even for the remaining 40 percent of the applications, the checks were not delivered in November when they were promised, or in December or in January. Instead, the controls were repeatedly delayed when the IRS tried to ensure that the program was not fraudulent. Frustration has fitted as Docuprep has failed to deliver checkene. The phone number on the company website is now interruptedand it is not clear how many people – if anyone – got theirs checks.
America’s complicated performance system
But this problem of an over-complicated system that makes it difficult for people to access benefits is not limited to the stimulus check. Too many public services do not get many people who are eligible – often because they have no idea how to sign up.
A report from August 2020 from the Ministry of Agriculture states this 16 percent of those eligible for food stamps do not receive them. The number varies enormously from state to state, suggesting that state-specific differences in eligibility notices, enrollment processes, and benefit delivery are likely to contribute to the differences. The temporary assistance program for needy families is notoriously difficult for eligible families to access, and only approx. 23 percent of them received assistance in 2019.
Homelessness, disability and extreme poverty make all services more difficult to access, so the people who have the greatest need are often most likely to fall through the cracks.
As my colleague Dylan Matthews has repeatedly argued, the federal government must make its assistance programs simpler and more accessible. In fact, some progress was made on this issue in the recent incentive plan – Biden’s child allowance converted the existing child tax deduction into an almost universal benefit sent to eligible recipients each month, making the program both more generous and accessible. But it is a solution in a year and there is a lot more work to be done on this front.
Needless to say, this is a terrible way to make stimulus payments – and any other form of public assistance. If the federal government want to help people, it is not enough to pass programs that in principle help them; the government actually has to build the infrastructure to get that help in hand.
For example, the IRS was made responsible for issuing stimulus checks and publishing eligibility, however it does not have a budget for public distribution or marketing. It could easily have gotten one along with the responsibility of sending the checks out.
There are also bigger solutions. Some political thinkers favor Give every American a federal bank accountwhich at the same time would solve the problem of underbanking – how poor people, who are not profitable for the banking system to seek out as customers, struggle with access to basic financial services – and the problem of issuing stimulus checks and benefits. In principle, the government could respond to recessions, pandemics and disasters of any kind by simply dropping some money on our Fed accounts.
The last few years have seen a dramatic turn towards cash as a way to solve difficulties. Research has found that poor people use cash to work more and improve their livesand it’s cash often the best way to help them. Stimulus control was overwhelmingly popular, and the Democratic Party won a large majority in the Senate on the strength of a promise to send multiple checkswhich they have now finished.
But a policy of sending checks must be combined with a plan to actually get these checks for people experiencing poverty and homelessness.