This story has been updated.
The 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.
Forty-one Democratic senators sent the White House a letter Wednesday asking why the Trump administration is placing this “significant burden” on senior citizens and the disabled. GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri called it “ridiculous."
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.
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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.
Nick Guerrero of Mesa, Ariz., has learned that he’s one of those who won’t be getting any money because he’s 18, another blow to his senior year of high school that is quickly unraveling.
On Sunday night, Guerrero was video chatting with a dozen friends and they laughed at the thought of having to hold a virtual prom and getting their high school diplomas via email. It still seemed unreal. On Monday, they woke up to the news that school was canceled for the rest of the year in Arizona.
“It was like a shot to the heart,” Guerrero said.
Some of his friends have lost their after-school jobs. He planned to get one soon to help save for college, but that is no longer possible. He has been applying for college scholarships, but some applications require him to use a fax machine or send a hard copy of his paperwork, and he no longer has access to the school printer.
Money is tight and his family had to borrow from a relative to pay for his Advanced Placement tests this spring. His parents — an education professor and a golf coach — expect to receive the government relief payment in April, which should help, but they won’t get $500 for him.
Guerrero trades text messages on a chain with about 25 friends — classmates he hasn’t seen since spring break started on March 6. Each day brings more harsh news about people they know getting sick and families hurting for money. His mom’s phone pings frequently with “SOS” messages from college students who can’t pay their rent.
“It seemed crazy to me that 17- and 18-year-olds won’t get this. We’re losing our jobs, too,” he said.