While most Americans will receive coronavirus stimulus checks based on previously filed tax returns, those populations who don’t typically file are wondering how they’ll see that money.
Employees of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic at Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services are trying to make sure those people don’t fall through the cracks when it comes to the $2 trillion emergency stimulus bill, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Chris Hega, director of economic services for Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services, said the IRS is working to come up with a “simple or zero tax return” for folks who aren’t required to file a tax return, like those on public assistance or Social Security. According to the IRS website, that includes “low-income taxpayers, senior citizens, Social Security recipients, some veterans and individuals with disabilities.”
“If you don’t typically file a tax return, you can still get the stimulus fund,” Hega said.
Hega said that “simple return,” which the IRS is developing, will most likely look more like an application, and will ask for information such as filing status, any dependents and direct deposit details.
The IRS, Hega said, can’t just base a person’s information on their Social Security because the agency won’t know about dependents in the household. For example, grandparents receiving Social Security who are raising a grandchild but don’t claim them on taxes could be eligible for the additional $500 per child in economic impact money from the stimulus bill.
“That’s why it’s so important for the IRS to get this mechanism (simple return) in place,” Hega said. “That’s one of the ways the IRS will be able to provide the extra $500.”
The IRS is not quite ready for people to file the simple returns, but according to its website, “will soon provide information instructing people in these groups on how to file a 2019 tax return with simple, but necessary, information including their filing status, number of dependents and direct deposit bank account information.”
Hega said his organization is also concerned about people who may be going through an unfriendly divorce, in which one person may have control of a bank account or claim the stimulus check in its entirety.
There could also be questions raised, he said, of people who were claimed as dependents in 2018, but not in 2019.
“There’s a layer of issues,” Hega said. “The IRS has to be aware that other things could go on here like fraud. They have to figure all that out. The priority is getting this money to the people as quickly as possible, and I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
His organization, he said, warns clients frequently of scams and fake returns, and this COVID-19 money is “navigating uncertain waters.”
“I think it’s going to be a big problem at some point because I don’t know what the filtering system would be,” Hega said. “There will be people out there trying to take advantage of this, and it will affect the people who are entitled to this stimulus money.”
Katie Butterworth, a paralegal with Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services, said they’ve already started seeing coronavirus-related scams.
“That’s why people need to look into this and make sure they get what they have coming,” she said.
People who fall into the category of filing a simple return but lack access to a computer or internet service, Hega said, can contact the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, which provides free help to those who are financially eligible across 24 counties.
“We’ll take calls and be able to guide people through the application,” he said. “We want to help people as much as possible, especially at this time.”
For more information about their services, call 724-225-6170 or visit www.pataxhelp.org. Additional information about the economic impact payments can be found on the IRS website.