Stimulus Checks: Why Millions of Americans Might Not Get One at All

While most Americans will be getting emergency relief checks this week due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions will not. According to a report by ProPublica, some of the people most impacted by the economic fallout due to the virus will not be issued the standard $1,200 stimulus check. To make matters worse, some companies are now trying to charge fees to help Americans get their checks — a service the government is unequipped to offer at the appropriate scale.

The U.S. government approved stimulus checks for the American people, with millions out of work due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Congress gave the IRS the job of distributing those checks, using the payment information on file in Americans' 2018 and 2019 tax filings. For some, that includes up-to-date direct deposit information, so they may have gotten paid as early as this week. For others, it may take weeks or months for a paper check to arrive in the mail. However, the current tax system could make it difficult if not impossible for some of the least wealthy Americans to get their stimulus check at all.

According to ProPublica, an estimated 6 million households in America did not file any taxes in the last two years because they make so little money that they are not required to. The IRS has created a new form for people in this position to file, in the hopes that they will get their relief payment. However, this process is so new it may be hard to push widespread use.

The other option is for the tax agency itself to find them. ProPublica reports that the IRS has been "gutted" by congress, leaving it ill-equipped for such a massive undertaking. So far, the IRS has relied on the support of nonprofit organizations and corporations to help spread the word and find the people who need money now.

Companies like Intuit — the creator of TurboTax — are now offering online products to help people get their stimulus checks, but they do not always come free. The company's "stimulus registration product" can at times steer customers towards products that cost money, potentially biting into the check that they badly need every cent of. At the same time, the company may profit off of the data provided by those customers too, according to tax law professor Dennis Ventry.

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"This vulnerable group of Americans might end up having to pay for tax prep that they could get for free," Ventry told ProPublica. "And this is a treasure trove of data for Intuit. The company can harvest the personal data of people who previously made up a universe of Americans that the tax prep companies didn’t interact with."

Visit the IRS' website for information on emergency relief checks. Visit the CDC's website for the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic.