The coronavirus pandemic has caused financial uncertainty for the country’s most vulnerable communities. Seniors and Americans with disabilities are among the populations who are most at risk for contracting the virus and facing its economic consequences. Fortunately, Congress and the Trump administration took a monumental step recently to help protect them financially during one of the most precarious and uncertain times in recent history.
Congress’ recent coronavirus relief bill — the CARES Act — which President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump predicts virus death toll could reach 100,000 in the US Pence says he should have worn mask during Mayo Clinic visit Trump says next coronavirus relief bill has to include payroll tax cut MORE signed in March, provides financial assistance to Americans amid the pandemic through direct checks. Under the bill, eligible adults receive a one-time $1,200 check and an additional $500 for each child in order to help them with expenses and to make it through the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
But at first, the IRS issued a requirement that Social Security recipients had to file a tax return in order to receive their stimulus checks. This was a barrier for many recipients of Social Security — which includes veterans, individuals with disabilities and seniors — who fall below the required income threshold for having to file a return. The country’s most vulnerable groups were almost stuck dealing with extra paperwork and red tape to get the checks they need.
Many of those who were watching this issue closely have credited the policy change to groups like AARP, which had said that “it was just wrong to ask them to fill out extra paperwork, especially in the middle of this crisis, to get the benefits they need.” Groups like these helped drive the recent reversal in policy that ended the requirement for Social Security recipients to file a tax return in order to access their financial relief.
As a result of their efforts, the Treasury Department announced that it wanted to “ensure that our senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and low-income Americans receive Economic Impact Payments quickly and without undue burden,” successfully preventing a large swath of people from falling through the cracks and removing significant barriers to critical financial relief. Leaders on both sides of the aisle had also been calling for this policy change and agreed with the Treasury department’s final decision to roll back the tax-filing requirement for beneficiaries that don’t earn enough.
Now, Social Security recipients can easily access stimulus checks that could help them pay for any additional costs associated with the outbreak. This includes visits to the hospital and other medical appointments, as well as having to purchase larger supplies of essential goods after the federal government recently urged at-risk Americans to not go out as often to grocery stores and pharmacies. Now is the time to stock up on essential products in order to travel less frequently to grocery stores and pharmacies, but millions of Social Security recipients who are on fixed incomes and budgets would have struggled to follow the onerous guidelines needed to get their checks to pay for more supplies.
For about one in four elderly recipients of Social Security, the monthly payments make up 90 percent of their income and the stimulus checks would help them to cover their additional expenses, preventing them from having to go into debt or forgoing purchasing food, prescription medicine and other critical goods. Many beneficiaries also rely on services like Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to their doorsteps, but the recent lack of volunteers has shuttered those programs. The stimulus checks allow many of them to be able to afford groceries.
The recent reversal on the tax-filing requirement is a victory for not only Social Security recipients, but also the country and its recovery from the virus. With more people, especially those who are most at-risk, able to stay home, this could help flatten the curve of coronavirus cases. Now that the IRS has reversed their decision, we’re in a better position to help more Americans in need as we continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Congressman Don Bacon represents Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. He is a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General.