“My $1,200 stimulus payment was automatically credited in early May to the same account as are my disability payments,” one reader emailed. “We have been awaiting receipt of a check for my wife’s stimulus payment but have yet to receive it. I called IRS in early July and conveyed our situation. The agent said my wife’s payment might have been delayed due to the late filing of 2018 taxes, but this made no sense, as I had received my payment.”
Another couple also complained they still haven’t received the $2,400 they are due. “We diligently looked at the qualifying criteria and concluded that each of us qualified to receive a payment. Thus far, we have been unsuccessful in determining when we will receive the payments,” the D.C. couple wrote.
Willard McGruder is raising two young grandsons, 2 and 7, on the $1,400 Social Security Disability Insurance payment he receives each month. Although McGruder received his $1,200 stimulus payment, it didn’t include the $500 per dependent child under 17 promised in the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act that passed in late March.
McGruder is now one of several plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last Wednesday against the Treasury and the IRS. The legal action stems from the decision by the IRS that McGruder and many other federal beneficiaries will probably have to wait until next year to get the extra $500 because they missed a deadline to let the agency know they had qualifying dependent children.
Except, the fault wasn’t theirs.
The agency created a special online non-filers tool for people who don’t have to file a tax return. Because many low-income people receiving certain federal benefits are not required to file tax returns, the IRS has no way of knowing they have qualifying dependent children and are thus entitled to receive the extra $500.
Although people receiving Social Security retirement benefits, survivor or disability benefits, or Railroad Retirement benefits automatically received stimulus payments even if they didn’t file tax returns, they have to use the non-filers tool to claim the extra $500 for each dependent child.
The IRS issued a special alert on April 20 on its website giving beneficiaries about 48 hours to claim their $500 payments. Those who failed to use the non-filers tool during this short window would have to until 2021 to get the money.
The IRS set another deadline of May 5 for people who receive Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs benefits to claim their dependent children.
Why the rush?
The IRS said it wanted to ensure the additional $500 for dependents was included with the $1,200 adult payments. The agency decided that once a stimulus payment has been issued, it would not send out a separate supplemental payment for eligible children.
“When this ‘non-filer portal’ was launched, there was no indication that there was a deadline to use the form,” points out the lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Unsurprisingly, many non-filer federal benefits recipients with dependents . . . were not able to meet these tight deadlines. They did not learn of the IRS news releases in time; they encountered unresolvable technical issues with the portal; and their disabilities prevented them from using the portal without reasonable accommodations, which were not provided during the applicable windows to add dependents.”
The lawsuit argues that online-only tools and notices are not an effective way to reach many Americans, particularly older, poorer citizens and those with mental and physical disabilities. “Research from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS, discourages the IRS from using any policy ‘restricting access to only online tools’ because it shows that groups including seniors and people with disabilities are unlikely to have Internet at home, and many do not use the Internet or do not know how to use the Internet,” the lawsuit says.
The Justice Department, which is handling the lawsuit, did not respond to requests for comment.
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Villanova University’s Federal Tax Law Clinic and the Berger Montague law firm have teamed up to challenge the IRS’s refusal to send supplemental payments.
“Parents and grandparents must get stimulus payments for their dependents now when so many Americans are not sure how they’re going to pay their bills,” said Christine Speidel, director of Villanova’s law clinic.
IRS officials initially told the U.S. Government Accountability Office 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 recently, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig revised the figure down to 365,000.
In yet another glitch, the IRS failed to capture dependent information for individuals who managed to use the non-filers tool. To correct its error, Rettig said the IRS is sending supplemental payments to those individuals by the end of this month.
But, if the IRS can send supplemental payments to that group, why not do the same for people such as McGruder, said Jennifer Burdick, an attorney with Community Legal Services.
“The covid-19 pandemic has caused chaos throughout the country in a lot of ways,” Burdick said in an interview. “Although it’s caused a lot of job loss, that is not the only way it has done damage. It’s caused massive disruptions in the supply chain. It has driven up food prices and essentials. And those people who are most affected by that are the lowest-income Americans who have the fewest choices to go to other stores or have access to credit so they can buy things online or from other places.”
During the Senate hearing, Rettig said the IRS was “sympathetic” about the issue but would not commit to sending out the $500 supplemental checks to low-income beneficiaries.
Although it’s true that people who miss getting a stimulus payment can file a return next year to collect the money — because technically, it’s an advance 2020 tax credit — the need is now.
“When you’re low-income, having an I.O.U. is not that helpful,” Burdick said.
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Reader Question of the Week
If you have a personal finance or retirement question, send it to email@example.com. In the subject line, put “Question of the Week.”
Q: I am a non-filer who never got a stimulus payment because I mistakenly checked “I am a dependent” while filling out information on the non-filers tool. I’m currently living out of the country. I called the IRS and was told that due to this mistake, I was considered not eligible for a payment, but I could still get the $1,200 when I file my 2020 tax return. Is that correct?
A: It’s understandable that in a rush to try to get their payments, many people made mistakes in using the non-filers portal the IRS created to handle stimulus payments for people not required to file a tax return. The stimulus payouts were based on 2018 or 2019 returns.
Because the stimulus payment is an advance tax credit, people who failed to get it this year have to claim it when they file their 2020 return next year.
Part of the problem is that when using the non-filer tool, you are filing a return, albeit a simple one, said IRS spokesman Eric Smith.
To correct the return, you probably have to file an amended 2019 return. For now, amended returns have to be mailed. And that’s a problem, because the IRS is dealing with a backlog of mail that accumulated when offices had to be shut down because of the novel coronavirus.
But there’s still hope for you. The IRS announced that it will soon be able to accept 2019 amended returns electronically, which could speed up processing.
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