After a wave of backlash from advocates and Democratic lawmakers, the Trump administration late Wednesday abruptly reversed policy guidance that would have required millions of Social Security recipients to file a tax return in order to receive the one-time $1,200 relief payment to which they are entitled under the newly passed coronavirus stimulus package.
But critics were quick to warn that the administration's reversal—announced in a statement by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin—does not cover low-income recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and veterans benefits. Leaving the roadblock in the way of these vulnerable groups, said advocates, could mean millions will not receive desperately needed relief.
"They're still requiring SSI recipients and veterans receiving pensions to file a tax return before receiving their coronavirus stimulus payments. That burden is unacceptable."
—Rep. Jan Schakowsky
"Under pressure, the Trump administration has reversed the cruel and needless requirement for Social Security beneficiaries to file a tax return to receive their $1,200 payment," tweeted advocacy group Social Security Works. "Now, they need to do the same for recipients of SSI and Veteran's Pensions."
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law last Friday, explicitly gives the Treasury Department authority to use Social Security Administration and Veterans Administration data already on file to distribute payments to those who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019 because they did not owe federal taxes.
Mnuchin said late Wednesday that "Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return do not to need take an action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account."
"Recipients will receive these payments as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their benefits," said Mnuchin. The Treasury Department is reportedly working to set up an online portal for people to update their direct deposit information.
Linda Benesch, communications director for Social Security Works, tweeted that the administration's change "should apply to people receiving [Social Security Disability Insurance]" but "doesn't appear to apply to people receiving SSI" because it is a separate program.
"We'll keep fighting to fix that," said Benesch.
SSI isn’t part of Social Security in the way SSDI is. It’s a separate program that’s also administered by the Social Security Administration.
— Linda Benesch (@LindaBenesch) April 2, 2020
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In a tweet accompanied by a smiling elderly couple, the Internal Revenue Service Wednesday night publicized the Trump administration's policy change, noting that "Social Security beneficiaries who are not typically required to file tax returns will not need to file to receive an economic impact payment. It's automatic."
However, the IRS concedes in its fact-sheet on coronavirus relief that "some people who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment."
While the Trump administration has portrayed the filing as "simple," Democratic lawmakers and journalists have reported hearing complaints from dozens of seniors who say they have been unable to file the required return online because they have no taxable income. Volunteer tax clinics across the U.S. that help people navigate the filing process are closed due to the coronavirus crisis.
"Since my printer isn't working, I'm not able to print it out to send it in," Sue Bohl, a 63-year-old Social Security Disability Insurance recipient in De Pere, Wisconsin, told HuffPost. "It's hard for me, because I don't think it's smart to be going out to do anything right now, so I'm stuck!"
Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.), a member of the House Democratic Task Force on Aging and Families, tweeted Wednesday night that the Treasury Department's reversal "is not enough."
"They're still requiring SSI recipients and veterans receiving pensions to file a tax return before receiving their coronavirus stimulus payments," said Schakowski. "That burden is unacceptable."
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that "beyond the tax-filing hurdle, millions of other Americans are realizing that they don't qualify for a coronavirus relief check" as mass layoffs continue across the United States.
"Most high school seniors and college students won't get any money," the Post reported. "The bill gives nothing to families for their children older than 16, a shock to many households already reeling from canceled graduations, and college students readjusting to life at home with so many universities shut down. Many immigrant families are also learning that they are ineligible. In order for anyone in the family to receive a payment, each person in the household—including children—is supposed to have a valid Social Security number."