SSI Recipients Will Now Get Coronavirus Payments Automatically

The Trump administration has again waived the tax return requirement for beneficiaries of certain government programs — this time, it's Supplemental Security Income.

People who receive Supplemental Security Income benefits will automatically receive coronavirus stimulus payments, the Trump administration announced Wednesday.

Instead of having to file a tax return or give the government their bank account number, the government will use the information it already has to deliver the $1,200 payments to SSI recipients.

The new policy should make life easier for the 5 million Americans who get by solely on SSI, which provides a meager monthly benefit to people with disabilities and limited work histories.

Congress created the coronavirus payments to help people survive the social distancing measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 24,000 Americans as of Wednesday afternoon. Everyone earning less than $75,000 is eligible for $1,200, plus $500 per child under 17.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act said that Treasury should use Social Security information to pay people who hadn’t filed a tax return for 2019 or 2018, but the Trump administration initially said everyone had to file one anyway.

People with low incomes generally aren’t required to file federal tax returns. Non-tax filers who aren’t Social Security beneficiaries still have to do so to get a coronavirus rebate.

Wednesday’s announcement is the second time the administration has relaxed the tax return requirement for Social Security beneficiaries, which Democrats have fiercely criticized. The Treasury Department previously said that people receiving Social Security retirement benefits or Social Security Disability Insurance would get their coronavirus payments automatically. But that announcement left out SSI recipients, even though their benefits are also paid by the Social Security Administration.

“SSI recipients with no qualifying children do not need to take any action in order to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. The payments will be automatic,” Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he was glad the IRS listened to Democratic demands that SSI beneficiaries receive automatic payments. “People should not have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get their stimulus checks,” Brown tweeted. “This is a huge win for SSI beneficiaries.”

If SSI recipients have children under 17, however, they still need to enter basic information on a new IRS web page in order to get an extra $500 per child. And that could prove difficult for some.

Tira Williams, a 43-year-old SSI beneficiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said she couldn’t figure out how to create an account to get the new IRS site to work. The agency created the site with the help of tax preparation companies like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax.

“After I realized I couldn’t make an account, I just left it alone,” Williams said. “It’s kind of complicated.”

Since she has a 12-year-old son at home, Williams’ inability to figure out the site could stop her from receiving an extra $500 ― and volunteer tax clinics are all closed due to the pandemic.

Williams had a double lung transplant in 2014 and can’t work. She said the extra income would help with bills and books for her son, whose school is closed.

Jennifer Burdick, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, recently helped Williams prove to the Social Security Administration, during a periodic review of her disability, that she is still unable to work. But Burdick’s organization is still evaluating whether it has the resources and expertise to help with what is essentially a tax filing issue.

Burdick commended the IRS and Social Security Administration for speeding the coronavirus payments to SSI recipients, but said every level of government should make sure non-tax filers “get the information and help they need to get the full payments for which they’re eligible.”

Williams, for her part, doesn’t want to leave her apartment with a dangerous respiratory illness lurking outside.

“It’s really scary because I already have a weakened immune system, so with the coronavirus attacking the lungs, I don’t come outside at all.”

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