It has been over a month since the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act, ensuring that millions of Americans would get a stimulus check to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic, yet millions are still waiting for their payment. While the process has bee fraught with glitches and delays, it has gone relatively quickly by an reasonable measure this kind of disbursement. With the majority of payments now behind them, many people are finally looking back on the time line of stimulus check disbursement.
The coronavirus pandemic hit the United States hard in March, quickly shutting down public spaces and changing life as we know it. With most businesses unable to function as they normally would, the U.S. saw historic levels of unemployment in a matter of weeks, and congress acted quickly to provide federal aid. As with the 2008 housing crisis and other economic recessions before it, congress approved stimulus checks sent directly to the American people.
Lawmakers wanted to get the stimulus checks out as quickly as possible, so they handed the responsibility to the IRS. The service was tasked with sending the money out by the same method it used to distribute tax returns in the last year or two. For many Americans, this did not turn out well. Many had changed banks so their direct deposit information was no longer valid or had moved recently so their mailing address was no longer accurate.
On top of that, many Americans who were desperate for financial aid wanted to get this payment via direct deposit even if they had gotten their tax return in the mail. The IRS tried to accommodate all of these needs, and the service did deploy a website with remarkable speed given its size, but it still left lots of room for glitches in the system.
For the updates on your person stimulus check, visit the IRS' Get My Payment website. In the meantime, here is a time line of the U.S. government's handling of distributing Economic Impact Payments.
March 27 — CARES Act
On March 27, 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The bill allocated $2 trillion in federal funds for pandemic relief, including a stimulus check for nearly every American taxpayer. Based on their gross annual income on their 2018 or 2019 tax return, they would be eligible for up to $1,200 in aid — along with an additional $500 for dependent children.
From the very start, there was debate about the criteria for eligibility under the CARES Act. Many worried about adult dependents, Social Security beneficiaries and others who might be left out. It is also worth noting that, while the term "stimulus check" immediately came into regular use, the checks were officially called Economic Impact Payments — meant to relieve financial burdens for Americans in need, not stimulate the ailing economy.
April 1 — Social Security Beneficiaries
Amid growing concerns, the IRS announced on April 1 that it would issue automatic stimulus payments to social security recipients. The same announcement noted that Railroad Retirement beneficiaries would be eligible as well. In both cases, these Americans were not required to file tax returns, so the IRS used the information on their SSA-1099 or RRB-1099 forms respectively.
The catch was that these forms did not provide the IRS with information on any possible dependents those people might have. The fix for this did not come until later. Meanwhile, critics were still talking about recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) were left out of the stimulus check disbursement.
April 10 — Non-Filers
The IRS cleared up a few issues at once when it launched the non-filers tool on its website. This digital form allowed anyone who was not required to file a tax return, yet was eligible for a stimulus check to send their information to the IRS, ensuring that they would get paid. Individuals with a gross income of $12,200 or less are not required to file tax returns in the U.S., yet these low-income families were still entitled to their payments.
April 15 — Direct Deposit & Get My Payment
The first round of Economic Impact Payments went into taxpayers' hands on Wednesday, April 15 via direct deposit. Anyone with up-to-date banking information in their 2018 or 2019 tax return got their payment automatically, including millions of Americans in the very first round.
At the same time, the IRS launched the Get My Payment tool on its website. This allowed taxpayers to check on how the IRS was distributing their stimulus check and to update that information if they wanted to. The idea was that those who did not want to wait for a check in the mail could enter their banking information here and get a direct deposit shortly after.
The Get My Payment tool did not live up to expectations, with glitches plaguing the site from the very start. Some Americans reported that they could not put in their information at all on the crowded website, while others said the information they entered did not get to where it was going. Some who used this site early on still ended up waiting for a paper check in the mail.
Finally, on the same day, the IRS moved beneficiaries of the Department of Veteran Affairs Compensation and Pension into the category of people getting automatic stimulus payments. As with Social Security and Railroad Retirement recipients, however, these people could not get the $500 credit for an underage dependent, if they had one. The IRS advised people in this category to use the non-filers tool to denote their dependents if they had any.
April 20 — Social Security, Survivor and Disability Beneficiaries
On April 20, the IRS announced that Americans receiving Social Security, survivor or disability benefits had until noon on April 22 to enter information on their dependents and receive the additional $500 credit. The agency claimed that the deadline was necessary for getting those payments out quickly, yet critics noted that this was not much advance warning for people navigating an already confusing process.
April 24 — SSI & VA Beneficiaries
The IRS issued a similar alert to the one described above on April 24 — this time for Supplemental Security Income and Veterans Affairs benefit recipients. These people now had until May 5 to use the non-filers tool to claim their underage dependents and receive an additional $500. If they missed the deadline, there would be no way for them to claim their dependent later on.
April 26 — Get My Payment Makeover
The Get My Payment tool underwent a big overhaul on April 26, but it came with growing pains. Millions of Americans panicked when they were locked out of the site, and when the updates were over, some complained that it was not even worth it. In many cases, users still reported issues with the web app.
At this point, the IRS pointed out parts of the process that had gone right so far, with 88 million Americans receiving their payment by then. The agency also noted that it was still processing tax returns at the same time, and it was doing all of that with a small staff.
April 28-29 — Accessibility
In the last week of April, the IRS reminded low-income Americans to use the non-filers tool to get their stimulus check if they had not filed tax returns. Many noted that, with public libraries closed, it was hard for some low-income families to get Internet access safely. Instead, some of those people were simply filing 2019 tax returns even though they didn't need to, in the hopes of getting their information on file.
Once those returns were sent, these people were locked out of the non-filers tool, and forced to wait for their taxes to be processed before the IRS could even begin sending them a stimulus check.
At the same time, the IRS missed the target date of April 29 for sending checks to Social Security, survivor and disability beneficiaries. According to a report by The Washington Post, the IRS did not explain why it missed that long-held deadline.
In many cases, people fall into several of these categories all at once. Sadly, the most up-to-date information seems to show that the IRS will use a tax return before any other information. If that return did not qualify for an refund, the IRS did not get your banking information, meaning you will have to wait for a paper check to be processed, printed and mailed.
According to The Post, some beneficiaries in the automatic payment categories began to complain around this time that they used the non-filers tool to denote their dependents as required, yet they still did not get the $500 added to their check. The IRS claims that anyone who did not receive the full amount they were entitled to will have to wait for their 2021 tax return to get the difference — though that is little help for immediate pandemic relief.
May 1 — Reminder
Finally, on May 1, the IRS issued another announcement urging SSI and VA recipients to use the non-filers tool by May 5 if they have an underage dependent, in order to get their $500. This sparked a fresh conversation about how the IRS distributes information and whether it is the most effective method. Some critics suggested that the IRS was not doing enough to reach out to people on disability or other forms of support and inform them of the action they needed to take. At the time of this writing, the IRS is still working to get stimulus checks out to the American people. You can always check your status on the Get My Payment website.