Birmingham, Ala.’s weather is sweltering these days, so Erica Robbins has three important questions for the homeless people she meets at her hydration station: Do they need water? Do they have food? And have they applied for their stimulus check?
“ ‘They are citizens just like everybody else and deserve to have access to this fund.’ ”
“They are citizens just like everybody else and deserve to have access to this fund,” said Robbins, the executive director and founder of Be a Blessing Birmingham who’s helped approximately 150 people get their $1,200 economic impact payment using the Internal Revenue Service’s website.
While Americans waiting to hear whether a second round of stimulus checks will be included in another coronavirus relief package, Robbins and others are trying to ensure people on the margins get their first installment — and they have to do it before an Oct. 15 application deadline.
In Broward County, Fla., Richard Campillo, a retired Nestle NSRGY, -0.00% executive, started his own single-person operation to connect homeless county residents with their checks.
Using the address and work space of a non-profit combatting homelessness, HOPE South Florida, Campillo has processed approximately 50 stimulus check applications. He does the work on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to noon and is looking for volunteers to assist him. The line starts forming by 8 a.m.
Some people use the money for a fresh start, like a man who paid off speeding and parking tickets so he could make money driving again, said Campillo, a board member for Broward Partnership, a Fort Lauderdale-based housing and social-service organization.
In Snohomish County, Wash., Penelope Protheroe, founder and president of the Angel Resource Connection, and volunteers have been doing the stimulus-check application outreach long enough to see a change in the people served.
They started with people who were already homeless when the pandemic first struck.
As double-digit jobless rates continued, Protheroe said some people became homeless, had bank accounts and emails, but didn’t make enough money meet income-tax filing requirements, she explained.
“ ‘These are the people closest to the edge that got out first. They were just a breath away from being blown into this homelessness.’ ”
These are the people closest to the edge. They were just a breath away from being blown into this homelessness,” she said.
The organization is located approximately 45 minutes north of Seattle and has processed around 400 stimulus-check applications. Volunteers still get about 20 to 30 people lining up for help when they go on food-distribution runs on Monday and Wednesday.
Some have spent the money on used cars, which Protheroe said they can drive and sleep in. One man used it buy landscaping equipment so he could get work. Others are saving it for when the weather turns cold, she said.
‘We can’t issue payments to people we can’t identify’
The IRS has distributed approximately 160 million economic impact payments, totaling $270 billion, Charles Rettig the agency’s commissioner, recently told senators.
The IRS determines who qualifies and where to send the money by looking at tax returns and who’s receiving benefits through Social Security, Veterans Affairs and the Railroad Retirement Board. That’s a wide swath, but it doesn’t cover everyone.
Someone who’s under 65 and makes less than $12,200 a year has no income-tax fling requirement. A married couple must make at least $24,400 before they have to file a return.
Up to 12 million people could be missing out on stimulus payments because they aren’t on any of the government records needed to trigger a check, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The projection consists of an estimated 9 million people who didn’t file 2018 taxes but had food stamp and/or Medicaid assistance, and another three million didn’t file taxes or get any public benefits.
Many poor people are getting their stimulus checks later, an Urban Institute study suggests. Almost 70% of all people in an approximate 4,300-person survey said they got their payment by late May, but 58.6% of adults at or below the poverty line received it by that time, researchers said.
“ ‘We can’t count people who we can’t identify and we can’t issue payments to people we can’t identify.’ ”
The 12 million-person estimate is “significantly overstated,” Rettig told senators at a Finance Committee hearing in late June.
“I’m probably not at liberty to give a number, but I would say it’s overstated multiple times. But part of the difficulty here is we can’t count people who we can’t identify and we can’t issue payments to people we can’t identify,” he said.
The commissioner said he’s reached out to various organizations that help people claim their checks. But the IRS can only do so much. It’s trying to emerge from a tax-return backlog after having to temporarily close most offices during the outbreak.
Obstacles big and small
People who don’t file taxes and aren’t claimed as someone else’s dependent can get the $1,200 payment by completing the IRS’ online non-filer tool. For someone living on society’s fringes, that’s not an easy task, advocates told MarketWatch.
Many libraries — places with free internet access — remain closed. Ninety-nine percent of libraries had limited building access, according to an American Library Association survey of more than 3,800 school and public libraries in May.
Then there’s email and mailing addresses. The non-filer tool needs both, but many homeless people may not have them. Campillo said some of the people he helps can’t remember their email password, because the library’s browser would put it in the autofill.
If non-filers have to establish a new email address, Protheroe said there’s often a two-step authentication process where a code is sent to a phone number. One problem: Many of the people she helps don’t have a phone number where the code can be sent. As a result, volunteers use their phone number to confirm the process.
“ Two out of 50 organizations agreed to be the mailing address for stimulus checks for Angel Resource Connection ”
There’s also a question of where the payment should be sent. Protheroe called 50 organizations asking to use their mailing address. Two agreed.
These non-filers have to figure out where to deposit, access and hold onto stimulus cash. They are part of the 14.1 million “unbanked” adults in the country. Instead of check cashiers who charge $50, $60 fees, Campillo steers them to Walmart WMT, -0.20%, where all cashed checks worth more than $1,000 have an $8 fee.
Campillo helped one man who later told Campillo muggers took his stimulus cash. “He’s just a gregarious kind of individual who told the wrong people,” Campillo said. Though IRS has started issuing debit cards, it sent paper checks to the people helped by Campillo.
Someone who misses the Oct. 15 non-filer application deadline doesn’t miss the stimulus check. They’ll need to file a tax return next year to get the money.
But that might be too long of a wait for many.
There was a time when Robbins’ cell phone would start ringing at 7 a.m. with calls seeking stimulus-check help. The call frequency has lessened, but that too could change.
Robbins is not talking up the possibility of another stimulus-check with clients. She doesn’t want to raise expectations if more direct payments don’t materialize. But she’s keeping an eye on Capitol Hill. “We’re on go, and we’re ready.”