Japanese were amazed when US $1,400 stimulus checks came in the mail – Community News
Stimulus Check

Japanese were amazed when US $1,400 stimulus checks came in the mail

A 79-year-old man in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, received an official-looking mail item in English in late April.

The address was the US Treasury Department. In the envelope he found a check for $1,400 (153,000 yen).

His wife also received a check for the same amount.

They are among the Japanese recipients of US stimulus to stimulate the economy during the pandemic, who do not know what to do with the surprise payments.

According to a person related to a major bank, the bank’s call center has been inundated with questions about US stimulus measures since May 11.

“As for the bank, if a person wants to cash a check and the person’s identity has been verified, we have to ask the US side to pay,” the person said. “We have no way of investigating whether the person is eligible to receive the check.”

In the case of the Kamakura man, he believed the checks were related to his U.S. Social Security benefits.

He worked for a major Japanese electronics company and was stationed at the US-based subsidiary for about five years from 1978.

He paid Social Security taxes over the years. Under the bilateral agreement between Japan and the US, he and his wife receive a monthly Social Security benefit of $500 from the US government.

But the US Treasury Department did not come up with a statement.

The man asked a friend who used to be an expatriate in the United States, who told him the check is part of the US government’s new coronavirus aid and suggested he could probably cash it.

The man came up with the idea of ​​pocketing the $2,800 and said to himself, “The United States has so much money left over that it’s handing out (the checks) to foreigners like me, who lived there about 40 years ago.”

He called a bank in Japan to ask how he could cash the checks.

But a bank employee told him the checks were probably intended for American citizens.

The man later sent an email written in Japanese to the US embassy in Japan, asking, “Can a Japanese citizen also cash it?”

The embassy answered him in English the next day, saying, “We are aware that this will affect US citizens in Japan, especially those who do not have a US bank account.”

The email also said the case falls under the jurisdiction of the Internal Revenue Service and included a phone number to call the IRS.

After all, the man decided not to do anything.

“Just because I don’t want to go to all the trouble of making international calls,” he said.

The man instead placed the two checks in a file where he kept retirement-related documents.

He said he stayed in the dark.

“I don’t know what to do from now on,” the man said, staring at the checks.

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US incentive checks issued to a man and his wife living in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture (Makoto Tsuchiya)

Today, banks in Japan are cautious about accepting a check issued abroad to avoid money laundering.

But in cases such as when a US citizen living in Japan is required to deposit a check, some banks will accommodate their needs.

President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, a multi-trillion dollar package to quickly boost the US economic recovery from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, was signed in March.

The Economic Impact Payments are part of the package and provide up to $1,400 for eligible U.S. citizens and residents with some limitations, such as income.

The previous Trump administration has paid similar stimulus checks twice.

According to data collected by the US government, as of 2019, about 70,000 people living in Japan were receiving Social Security benefits under the bilateral agreement between Japan and the US signed in October 2005, known as the Totalization Agreement.

The number is relatively high among other advanced countries.

Donna Kepley, president of Arctic International LLC, an international tax consultancy, said she believes the IRS made a mistake “by linking the incentive payments to people who get the totalization agreement” and “the computer programmers who had to write the program to indicate what people should get a check probably didn’t make it as restrictive as they should have.”

Quite a few ineligible recipients, including deceased people, received a stimulus check issued under the Trump administration, likely due to errors on application forms, as reported in the media.

Kepley said the Biden administration has prioritized the speed of issuing checks to those in need.

Within two months of March 12, 165 million incentive checks were issued, totaling $388 billion.

“From a programming standpoint, it’s probably better to get the checks in the hands of hundreds of millions of people and then maybe 5,000 have to go back,” Kepley said. “That seems like logic to the IRS. Because if they waited and made it more restrictive, maybe the people who should be getting it wouldn’t get it, and it would take a lot longer.”

In response to a question from The Asahi Shimbun, the IRS said, “A non-resident alien in 2021 is not eligible for the payment.” The IRS said those who received a check should write “VOID” on the back and return it to the IRS center in Texas.

Kepley said it is illegal for Japanese citizens living in Japan who do not hold a green card to cash the checks. She warned that if they don’t refund the payment, they could receive a warning letter from the IRS in 2022.

“So the way it works in the United States is if you get a payment that’s incorrect and you keep it, when you get caught, when the IRS contacts you, you have to pay back the money plus a penalty plus interest. on the money because you’ve had it to use,’ Kepley said.

She continued: “It is very important that if the people are not green card holders, if they are in fact a non-resident alien, they return the money as soon as possible.”

Otherwise, they may see a reduction in their future Social Security benefits, she said.

Shunji Ichikawa, who runs a counseling center for people traveling between Japan and abroad, said many of the recipients who have received a stimulus check are not eligible to cash it.

“It seems surprising in the Japanese sense, but there is a cultural difference that makes emergency relief a top priority and addresses negative impacts when they occur,” Ichikawa said.

(This article was written by Makoto Tsuchiya and Erika Toh in Tokyo and Naoatsu Aoyama in Washington.)