While millions of people have received their first Economic Impact Payment, a significant group of others who are eligible are frustrated that they've seen nothing or only part of what they're owed.
Many still are wondering four months after the first round of stimulus checks began rolling out when they'll actually get their money. Some money has been held up by glitches, programming errors and math errors on some tax returns.
The group left on the sidelines includes families where a spouse is in jail or prison, someone whose spouse owes back-due child support, victims of identity theft and others.
Hundreds of thousands of lower-income families fell short for months and didn't receive an extra $500 for qualifying children ages 16 and younger due to an IRS tool's programming error in April and early May. Fortunately, some of that money finally began arriving in the mail in early August.
The Internal Revenue Service has not issued a specific number for how many payments remain missing in action.
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"Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information to make an estimate, and the IRS has not provided an estimate," according to Howard D. Brooks, public affairs specialist for the Taxpayer Advocate Service.
The stimulus program has provided a lifeline – and likely contributed to a savings cushion for some more financially stable families – during the economic fallout from the fight against COVID-19.
Eligible families received up to $1,200 for each adult – or up to $2,400 for a married couple – and $500 for each eligible child age 16 and younger.
It's a big deal if a struggling family lost a paycheck during the pandemic and didn't get the money that they're owed. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is working with the IRS to make sure some payments facing delays could arrive sometime this year, if possible.
Otherwise, some families won't get their stimulus money until after they file their federal income taxes in 2021. Having to hang on that long only adds to the hardship already being faced by many.
Some stimulus fixes are on the way
Taxpayers may be getting extra help in the coming weeks. Some issues are being resolved. If you've not received the first stimulus payment, you can call the IRS at its Economic Impact Payment information number at 800-919-9835.
You can research some specific questions at the Economic Impact Payment Information Center at IRS.gov.
Some taxpayers who meet set criteria and have an unresolved issue may get some help from the National Taxpayer Advocate helpline at 877-777-4778.
As of May 8, the IRS reported that about 130 million individuals received their Economic Impact payments worth more than $200 billion in the program's first four weeks.
Roughly 20 million or more people had yet to receive payments by early May. Yet payments continued to go out this summer to millions of people and remain ongoing.
Stimulus safety net falls short for some in poverty
What's unsettling is that lower-income families often have been the ones facing endless hurdles and delays – the very people who are least able to weather the financial upheaval brought on by the pandemic.
About 12% of Detroit residents – equivalent to roughly 80,400 Detroiters – said they were still waiting to receive payment by early June, according to a report issued by Poverty Solutions and the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study at the University of Michigan.
About 71% of Detroit residents surveyed said they had received a stimulus payment, the research indicated. (Three surveys of more than 1,300 Detroit residents were completed from March 31 through June 11 relating to financial ramifications and job losses due to the pandemic.)
Richard Rodems, a co-author of the U-M study and research fellow at Poverty Solutions, said whether someone received a stimulus payment yet or not might depend on how socially included they are or not.
If someone regularly files and pays taxes, he said, the federal government had an easier time to directly deposit stimulus checks into those bank accounts.
"The government knows where you are, knows how to send money to you," Rodems said.
But the process faced more hurdles when trying to get money to people who do not file taxes, those who do not have bank accounts and others who frequently move from one apartment or home to another.
Lydia Wileden, a co-author of the U-M Poverty Solution study on stimulus checks in Detroit, said the stimulus checks provided a great deal of help for low-income workers who were laid off from jobs.
Many lost jobs, as restaurants and bars shut down in March for several weeks. Some later reopened but often on a limited basis.
More than one-quarter of unemployed Detroiters, Wileden noted, say they have not received unemployment benefits – either due to ineligibility or delays in that system – but have received a stimulus check.
"This has been a real lifeline for a lot of Detroiters," Wileden said.
For that reason, the study favored a second stimulus for many who have fallen behind on their bills since the economic shutdowns began in March.
Another study published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicated that many families with little savings immediately spent money from stimulus checks on food, rent and bills.
People who had less than $500 in their accounts spent almost half of their stimulus payments within 10 days – 44.5 cents out of every dollar, according to that working paper.
But not everyone received their COVID-19 cash promptly.
Enough people remain in the dark about those first stimulus payments that the National Taxpayer Advocate is working on providing more specific assistance and answers.
Some glitches for a limited group of taxpayers are expected to be cleared up in the coming weeks, according to the taxpayer advocate. The trouble spots are very specific. So the reason why you didn't get your money could be surprising.
For example, suppose you don't make enough money to normally be required to file a tax return.
But, as part of the stimulus program, you took the initiative and logged onto the IRS "Non-Filer Tool" before May 17 to provide information and claim at least one qualifying child.
Thousands in that very specific group of parents waited until August to receive the $500 stimulus money that applies to the child because of a programming error, according to an Aug. 10 blog by the Taxpayer Advocate Service.
"The IRS has started issuing additional payments to these individuals, and we anticipate all additional payments will be received by the end of August," the blog noted.
The IRS said direct deposit payments for this "Non-filer" group were scheduled for Aug. 5. Paper checks or debit cards were scheduled to be mailed Aug. 7.
Another point of possible confusion: "If you used the Non-Filers tool on or after May 17, 2020, your EIP included $500 per qualifying child," according to the IRS.
Another option: It is still possible to use the "Non-filer" tool to get an economic impact payment. Those who don't usually file tax returns and did not use the tool still can register for payment by Oct. 15 at the "Non-filers" tool at IRS.gov. You do not use that tool, though, if you filed a 2019 return or still plan to file a 2019 return.
Here's a look at some other reasons why you could still be waiting for stimulus money:
Married couples whose spouse owes past-due child support
Someone who is married could still be eligible to receive their portion of an Economic Impact Payment even if their spouse's portion goes directly for back due child support. But many of those taxpayers wrongly didn't get their COVID-19 stimulus checks. The IRS is working on this problem with plans to send the money.
Typically, an "injured spouse" files Form 8379 so that the federal government cannot take his or her portion of a tax refund due to their spouse's debt before they were married. So that should apply to the stimulus payments, too.
If you already have filed Form 8379, you don't need to do anything.
But if you have not filed Form 8379, perhaps there was no tax refund in 2018 or 2019, then you still need to file Form 8379 to have your portion of your economic stimulus issued.
In this case, the taxpayer advocate noted: If you have not received your additional economic income payment by the end of August, you can contact the taxpayer advocate's office.
Victims of ID theft
Some taxpayers didn't get their stimulus or received less money because they were victims of identity theft.
"The IRS will adjust the EIP once the identity theft issue is resolved," according to the taxpayer advocate.
A married couple whose spouse died or remains in jail
In some cases, a widow might not have received a stimulus check because she filed a joint return with a deceased spouse. It may be that the payment wasn't issued, was returned, or even canceled. The IRS is expected to recalculate those payments in the days ahead.
"Unless the individual does not receive the payment by mid-September there is no action to take," according to the taxpayer advocate.
The same's true if a spouse is in jail or prison.
When it comes to those in prison or jail, the IRS maintains that spouse would qualify but inmates do not qualify for the first round of stimulus checks. Advocates for criminal justice reform disagree. (At one point, the IRS sought help from state prison systems to get back stimulus checks that n it said had wrongly been sent to prisoners.)
As others try to walk through the question of what happened to their money, they should take time to step back. Before you panic, try to figure out why you did not receive the first check.
Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, said individuals need to ask questions such as: Was my income too high to be eligible? Was I not required to file a tax return so the IRS possibly had no record of where to send the check? Was a direct deposit made to the wrong bank account based on outdated information with the IRS?
Remember, Luscombe says, if you're still eligible and you don't get the money soon, you will be able to claim a credit on your 2020 tax return when you file the return next year for the amount of the stimulus check.
One thing to consider: "If the Get My Payment application at IRS.gov says you were sent a check, your Economic Impact Payment may have come as a pre-paid debit card that came in a plain envelope from 'Money Network Cardholder Services.' Check your mail carefully," said Luis D. Garcia, a spokesperson for the IRS in Detroit.
If your payment was lost, stolen or destroyed or Get My Payment says it was sent more than two weeks ago, Garcia said, you should request a payment trace. See Form 3911.
But the IRS says you shouldn't try to trace a payment if you are trying to figure out if you're eligible or should have received more money.
"You must have been sent a Notice 1444 or received a payment date from Get My Payment to request a trace," Garcia said.
Contact Susan Tompor via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @tompor. If you'd like to subscribe, please go to freep.com/specialoffer. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Stimulus checks: Many families are still waiting for one to arrive