Treasury announced late Wednesday that Social Security beneficiaries who typically do not file a tax return will automatically get the $1,200 payment.
The announcement is a reversal from earlier in the week when the Internal Revenue Service said everyone would need to file some sort of tax return in order to qualify for the payments. Democrats and some Republicans criticized the IRS for requiring so many extra hurdles for this vulnerable population to get aid when the government already has their information on file.
The reversal came as the Trump administration tries to rapidly get stimulus payments out to Americans in the face of the quickest economic decline in modern history.
“Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return need to take no action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
The $2.2 trillion aid legislation, passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, directed the Treasury to look at Americans’ 2019 or 2018 tax returns to determine if they are eligible for a payment. But the law also said Treasury should look at Social Security data for seniors and the disabled.
Criticism poured in after the IRS posted a notice on its website on Monday instructing Social Security recipients who do not normally send in a return to file a “simple” tax return, which would be available soon.
More than 15 million Americans on Social Security do not file an annual tax return because their income is so low, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
During the last recession, when the U.S. government sent most Americans a stimulus check and required a filed tax return to get it, 3.5 million Social Security recipients were left out because they never sent a return, according to a 2008 Treasury Department analysis.
There were concerns that even more people won’t file during the pandemic. But the Trump administration ultimately reversed course.
Mnuchin said direct deposits should begin by April 17, followed by checks in the mail. About 60 percent of tax filers gave the IRS direct-deposit information in recent years, said Nicole Kaeding of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. The IRS said there would soon be a web-based portal for people to update their direct-deposit information.
Beyond the tax-filing hurdle, millions of other Americans are realizing that they don’t qualify for a coronavirus relief check.
Most high school seniors and college students won’t get any money. 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.