Gail Harless figured it’d be simple enough. Go to the IRS website, plug in 2018 tax information and stimulus money would land in her checking account.
All she got were errors and rising frustration as the weeks ticked by.
“Will I ever get my money?” she now wonders.
Congress in late March earmarked $300 billion in direct payouts to Americans hit by the coronavirus pandemic, providing tax-free rebates to help buy groceries and pay rent. But millions are still waiting.
“The thing that annoys me,” said Harless, 65, who retired as a data analyst last year, “is they said if you’re receiving Social Security through auto deposit you don’t have to do anything. Then I go to the IRS website and they act like they don’t know who I am.”
The Treasury Department has sent $200 billion to more than 130 million citizens so far. About $3.7 billion of that has landed in the mailboxes and bank accounts of more than 2 million Minnesotans.
The IRS wouldn’t provide more detailed state-by-state data. But based on state tax returns and other estimates, at least 1 million Minnesotans could still be looking for the money.
On Friday, the Treasury and IRS said they’ve taken steps to speed up the payments. They urged people who are still waiting to use the “Get My Payment” on the website by Wednesday.
“We’re working hard to get more payments quickly to taxpayers,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said. “Time is running out for a chance to get these payments several weeks earlier through direct deposit.”
As weeks go by and bills keep stacking up, more Minnesotans are annoyed.
“I find it unacceptable that you cannot call the IRS,” said Kimberly Malone, a state government employee who lives in Brooklyn Center.
Her family of four, with children ages 2 and 8, is due to receive $3,400. The endless loop of bright red error messages now has her seeing red.
“Hopefully we will get a check in the mail soon,” she said.
The government checks are part of a massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package known as the CARES Act.
About nine in 10 American households are expected to receive a payment, according to estimates from the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center.
Individuals with a Social Security number who earn up to $75,000 a year in adjusted gross income will receive the full $1,200. Married couples who file joint tax returns will receive $2,400 if their adjusted gross income is under $150,000. Families receive another $500 for each child under 17.
Payments drop for those who make more. The program is capped for individuals whose income is more than $99,000 and married joint filers earning more than $198,000.
Annie Durst of Chaska, parent of a 17-year-old son, is upset at the cutoff age for the dependent bonus.
“I don’t have a job. He has to eat. He’s still in high school,” Durst said. “He can’t vote. He can’t gamble. He is 100% my responsibility. I’d like to be recognized for being a mom.”
The language for the rebate was pulled from the existing federal Child Tax Credit, and efforts for a legislative fix so far have gone nowhere.
Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Angie Craig, both Minnesotans in Congress, are among lawmakers pushing to expand eligibility for the $500 credit to all dependents in a family, including college students up to age 24 and those with disabilities.
Durst said an extra $500 would make a huge difference. Until the pandemic, she was able to handle the bills with income from her job at the VFW in Chaska plus extra shifts as a bartender and server at the Victoria House.
“I’m falling behind on everything,” she said. “I made the mortgage payment but I don’t think I can make it next month. My credit cards are on hold for 90 days. But it’s all going to catch up to me. We all know this is coming to bite us eventually.”
The process has been full of delays, technological glitches and frustrating rules. With the IRS experiencing its own staff reductions due to the coronavirus crisis, customer service hasn’t always been stellar.
Among the glitches: checks have gone out to people who have died during the past two years. That led the IRS last week to ask recipients of those checks to mail them back to the nearest regional office.
And some banks seized customers’ checks if their accounts were overdrawn, in some cases as a result of pandemic-related layoffs.
The process has been confusing for Social Security recipients and retirees who didn’t file returns in 2018 or 2019. At first they were asked to file a “simple” tax return. Then the IRS reversed course.
Even as the IRS last week sought to speed up the payouts, an official declined to provide an updated timetable.
If a congressional research report from mid-April holds up, some people may wait until mid-September.
Dennis Henkemeyer, who lives in Bagley, Minn., and is still waiting for his check, marvels at the inconsistencies. Friends in Virginia received theirs last week. “Then we had a friend over for coffee and got to talking about it, he hadn’t gotten his either,” he said.
Henkemeyer collects Social Security along with disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He and his wife plan to donate their stimulus check to a local food bank.
“Financially, we’re doing OK,” Henkemeyer said. “My big point is that I’d like to make that decision rather than having them just sitting on the money.”