IRS Should Do More to Reach Out to Americans Who Missed Out on Stimulus Check, Says GAO

by Christy Bieber | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Sept. 24, 2020

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A check from the United States Treasury.

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The IRS may not have done enough to deliver payments to everyone.

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) authorized coronavirus stimulus payments for most Americans, the IRS was put in charge of the payments.

The IRS used information from 2018 and 2019 tax returns to distribute the money. The agency also obtained details on beneficiaries from the Social Security Administration and from the Veterans Administration. Finally, it created an online tool that non-filers could use to input their information and obtain a check or payment via direct deposit.

Despite these steps, there are still millions of Americans who are due a payment. Now, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) urges the agency to do better. It wants to see additional action to reach those who were left out of the coronavirus relief effort.

The GAO wants the IRS to take broader action so Americans don't miss out on thousands in benefits

According to the Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees on COVID-19 Relief Efforts, the lack of information on eligible recipients has left "potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment."

To avoid this undesirable outcome, the GAO has suggested that the IRS:

  • Update and refine their estimates on people who haven't provided the necessary information so further outreach efforts can target them.
  • Make this information available to outreach partners who can better connect with these groups of individuals and raise awareness about the payouts they are missing.

The last GAO report in June identified similar problems. In response, the IRS reopened the online tool for non-filers and extended the deadline for those missing dependent payments to take action. It is likely the agency will again comply with the GAO's request to help ensure stimulus payments are available to all who qualify for them.

Those who have not yet received their COVID-19 payment will, however, have to take some action to get their money.

  • If you have not received stimulus money for your dependents, you have until Sept. 30 to provide the necessary details.
  • If you have not received any payment at all, you need to log on before Oct.15. Both groups can use the non-filers form on the IRS website.

If you miss these opportunities, your payment will still be available but only if you file a tax return for 2020 to obtain the missing funds. This won't be an option until at least January of 2021 and is a more complicated process than simply using the online non-filers form now.

Sadly, those Americans with missing checks are likely the only ones who will get COVID-19 relief money from the federal government going forward. Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass legislation that would authorize a second stimulus check.

Those who were waiting for another direct payment to help cover the bills will need to consider other options. For example, homeowners might reduce their monthly obligations by refinancing their mortgage at today's record low rates. Or, as a last resort, consider using a 0% APR credit card to charge purchases that hopefully can be repaid before the promotional rate expires.

But first, make sure you get any money you are entitled to. These steps can help, but they are not a replacement for government aid earmarked to help people through these difficult times.

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