Millions of low-income Californians aren’t getting much-needed stimulus money because of the way it’s being distributed, according to a California Policy Lab study published on Tuesday.
Millions of Californians Entitled to Stimulus Payments May Not Be Getting Them. Here's How to Make Sure You Do
“We estimate that 2.2 million low-income Californians who are on safety net programs like CalFresh or CalWORKs are missing out on $5.7 billion in stimulus payments,” said Aparna Ramesh, a senior research manager with the lab and a co-author of the report.
The reason for the oversight is that Congress and the IRS wanted to provide financial support as quickly as possible, Ramesh said, “and the fastest way to do this was to send stimulus payments automatically to people who file taxes.”
But that decision can potentially lead to the exclusion of lots of low-income people, “arguably the families that need these dollars the most,” Ramesh said. “That's because these families have not filed their taxes in the last two years. So if you have little to no income, you don't owe money to the IRS and you do not have to file your taxes.”
Last year, the IRS created an online tool that allowed non-filers to easily submit the information needed to get their payments, but it hasn’t been accessible since last November. In the meantime, Ramesh said, hundreds of thousands of Californians have become eligible for the second and third round of stimulus payments.
Ramesh doesn’t know why the IRS hasn't reactivated the tool, but she says Californians shouldn’t depend on its availability.
The most dependable way to ensure you get the payments you are due is to file your taxes, even if you’re not required to. Ramesh says most people in this situation will qualify for free tax filing support, which they can get at places like MyFreeTaxes.com, GetYourRefund.org or by calling 211.
“There's been a lot of focus ... about how these credits are going to lift people out of poverty,” Ramesh said. "That's certainly true. But I think the bottom line is they're only going to lift people out of poverty if people actually receive the credits.”
More info on getting your stimulus benefits and other tax credits here.