4/01/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to help retirees and seniors living on fixed incomes access the direct payments they are eligible for under the new $2.2 trillion emergency coronavirus relief law, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse are asking the Trump Administration to follow the clear intent of the law and provide direct payments to Social Security beneficiaries who do not file taxes.

Thousands of Rhode Island taxpayers over the age of 65 do not file an annual federal income tax return because their only source of income is Social Security benefits.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act that was signed into law last week ensures that the U.S. Treasury has the authority to send automatic direct cash assistance to Social Security beneficiaries regardless of whether they file taxes or not.  Under the CARES Act, anyone earning $75,000 or less will receive $1,200 as a direct deposit into their bank account, distributed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  The IRS, along with the Social Security Administration, issues tax statements each year and already has the information it should need in order to direct deposit benefit checks for elderly Americans. 

Despite the fact that the law provides the U.S. Treasury Department with clear authority to issue direct payments based on information available from the Social Security Administration, new guidance issued earlier this week seems to indicate the Trump Administration may try to make seniors file additional paperwork and go through bureaucratic hoops in order to receive the $1,200 direct payments they are eligible for.

Today, Reed and Whitehouse, sounded the alarm over this guidance.  They joined with 39 colleagues in sending a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul calling for the Treasury Department and Social Security Administration to ensure that all Social Security beneficiaries will automatically receive the direct assistance included in the CARES Act without having to file tax returns.

“This [IRS] filing requirement would place a significant burden on retired seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, especially given the current unavailability of tax filing assistance from Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs during the COVID-19 crisis,” wrote the senators. “We strongly urge you to ensure that economic stimulus payments are automatically sent to vulnerable seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, without these individuals needing to file a tax return.”

The Senators note that the law clearly states: “if the individual has not filed a tax return for such individual’s first taxable year beginning in 2018, use information with respect to such individual for calendar year 2019 provided in— (i) Form SSA–1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or (ii) Form RRB–1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.”

In addition to Reed and Whitehouse, the letter was led by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Gary C. Peters (D-MI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Christopher A. Coons (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

The full text of the letter follows:

April 1, 2020

Dear Secretary Mnuchin and Commissioner Saul:

The COVID-19 public health emergency is taking a massive economic toll on families across the country. To provide immediate financial assistance to struggling individuals during this crisis, Congress passed and the President signed the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This legislation directly provides most Americans with stimulus payments to help cover necessary personal expenses.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will automatically send stimulus payments to eligible taxpayers who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return. However, many Social Security beneficiaries, including retired seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, typically do not file tax returns. To ensure that these vulnerable individuals automatically receive stimulus payments, the CARES Act explicitly provides the Treasury Department with the authority to provide payments to seniors receiving Social Security retirement benefits and to individuals receiving Social Security disability benefits, even if these individuals do not file tax returns.

Unfortunately, on March 30, the IRS published guidance indicating that the agency may require recipients of Social Security retirement and disability benefits to file 2019 tax returns to receive stimulus payments. This filing requirement would place a significant burden on retired seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, especially given the current unavailability of tax filing assistance from Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Along with colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee, we strongly urge you to ensure that economic stimulus payments are automatically sent to vulnerable seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, without these individuals needing to file a tax return.

Sincerely,