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Higgins calls for streamlined process to ensure WNYers without internet access receive COVID-19 relief payments

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Wed, Jun 10th 2020 04:00 pm

Congressman Brian Higgins is calling for the U.S. Department of the Treasury to issue “simple guidance and dedicated resources” to assist Americans without internet access in receiving their economic impact payments. After receiving outreach from constituents, Higgins worked with other House Ways and Means Committee members to stand up for those struggling with accessing the payments they deserve.

In a letter to the treasury secretary signed by 12 members of the Ways and Means Committee, Higgins wrote, “I am specifically concerned about individuals who do not file federal income tax returns or receive other federal benefits or assistance. While I appreciate that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued guidance for these non-filing taxpayers to receive their Economic Impact Payments, such guidance presents many logistical barriers and lack awareness among the general public, severely limiting their goal of providing needed relief to the most vulnerable.”

An estimated 6 million people are not required to file tax returns. This includes individuals who make under a certain income threshold, as well as some Social Security recipients, veterans and people with disabilities. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Higgins is directly involved with oversight of the Treasury Department. Higgins and other Ways and Means members fought for and won direct payment distribution for Social Security recipients and vulnerable elderly and disabled individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). But many others, who are eligible for a payment, but don’t have a bank account on file with the IRS or access to a computer to provide the information online, are at risk of never receiving the payments they are owed.

IRS guidance requires non-filers to follow the “simplified return filing procedure,” a 12-page procedure only available on the IRS website containing detailed, difficult-to-follow instructions, without an FAQ or user-friendly guide.

A press release explained, “Additionally, the IRS requires a Form 1040 or a Form 1040-SR to be completed in a specific way with specified entries on the lines on the form, leaving significant room for human error, which could prevent or delay receipt of payment. Obtaining these forms has been difficult because libraries, community centers and other places where individuals generally obtain paper IRS forms during tax time have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center estimates 10% of all American adults do not use or have access to the internet, while approximately 29% of American adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don’t own a smartphone, and 46% do not have a traditional computer. Higgins argued these “unfair and unjust hurdles, coupled with the currently complex filing procedure” will stand in the way of Americans receiving direct assistance.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, approved by Congress, authorized a one-time automatic payment of $1,200 to most Americans as the nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic.

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