Senators call on IRS to automatically send stimulus checks to seniors

Coronavirus

Image: Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., speaks at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on March 5, 2020.Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., speaks at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on March 5, 2020. Samuel Corum / Getty Images file.

WASHINGTON D.C. (NBC News) — More than three-dozen Democratic senators are pressuring the Trump administration to rescind or clarify new guidance that tells seniors to file a tax return in order to receive a stimulus payment.

Led by Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the senators wrote a letter Wednesday taking issue with IRS guidelines that say seniors who don’t submit returns “will need to file a simple tax return to receive an economic impact payment” under the coronavirus package.

The agency mentioned Social Security recipients in that category, which has caused confusion among some elderly Americans — an estimated 64 million Americans received Social Security benefits last year and many aren’t required to file tax returns.

“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,” the senators wrote in the letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saulwhich is first reported by NBC News.

They called on the IRS to make the payments automatic without requiring seniors to file a return.

The signatories include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Vt.), former candidates Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Finance Committee.

Hassan’s office argued that IRS guidance goes against the language of the law, which states that for non-tax-filing seniors, Treasury may use Social Security statements like SSA-1099 or RBR-1099 to determine eligibility and make payments.

It is unclear if the IRS will fall back on those Social Security statements or if failure to file at least a simple tax return will disqualify elderly Americans from getting a direct deposit or check.

A spokesperson for the IRS said Wednesday afternoon that the agency had nothing to add to its guidelines from Monday, but to watch for updates.

The relief payments to help Americans through the COVID-19 emergency are available to individuals who earn less than $99,000 — or married couples who make up to $198,000. They max out at $1,200 per person.

Chuck Marr, a tax policy expert at the progressive-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimated that more than 15 million Social Security beneficiaries “who currently don’t file tax returns and aren’t otherwise required to do so would have to file, if Treasury doesn’t use its authority to get those people payments automatically.”

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