How to Get Your California Stimulus Check — and Other Tax Credits You're Entitled To

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As complicated as tax season is every year, filing your taxes for the extremely challenging year that was 2020 (by the new due date of May 17) could help you qualify for significant financial help in the form of tax credits.

Back in February, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a $7.6 billion package known as the Golden State Stimulus plan. In March, the federal government approved its third stimulus plan, worth $1.9 trillion.

Both packages include direct aid in the form of tax credits (also known as stimulus checks), with a one-time payment of $600 for anyone who earned less than $30,000 last year, and $1,400 in federal aid going to individuals who earned less than $75,000 last year. (Find out how long you're likely to wait to receive your payment).

While this aid is meant to benefit families that have been hit hard by the pandemic, a recent report shows it's not reaching those most in need.

“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, senior research manager with the California Policy Lab and co-author of the report.

Why? In order to send payments quickly, the federal and state governments used previous years' tax filings as indicators for need. But that overlooked folks who weren't required to file taxes at all because they had little to no income and didn't owe money to the IRS (a tool created by the IRS to help these folks has been defunct since November.)

So, the most dependable way to ensure you get the payments you are due is to file your taxes for 2020 – even if you’re not required to, and even if you have no income to report from the last year.

In this guide, we’ve collected essential information to help you make sure you get the aid you're entitled to, ranging from local tax credit programs like the San Francisco Working Families Credit (which grants up to $500 to eligible families) to the the Golden State Stimulus plan.

We've also included relevant information for undocumented and mixed-status families, who may also qualify for an additional $600 from the state this year.

Related: read our guide to filing your taxes if you claimed unemployment benefits.

Click on the links below to skip to a specific section:

What You're Automatically Eligible for When You File

The first step can sometimes be the hardest. But if you don’t file your taxes on time, you may miss out on the money you're entitled to, regardless of your income.

“The goal of the $600 checks is to help those facing the greatest economic challenges due to COVID-19,” said Yolanda López, financial capability coordinator with the Unity Council, a nonprofit organization in Oakland that offers free tax assistance.

“By simply filing your taxes you will then be eligible to receive this aid through direct deposit to the account you used when filing your taxes, or [money] will be sent as a physical check to the address provided in your filing,” López added.

Not reporting your earnings may also put you at risk of missing out on everything you could receive from the third stimulus package.

The federal government calculates your eligibility based on your most recent tax filing. So if you didn't file your 2020 taxes before the most recent stimulus was signed by President Biden on March 11, your eligibility will be calculated based on your 2019 earnings. So if you made more than $75,000 in 2019 — but less than that in 2020 — you may not qualify for these checks, despite seeing your income drop during the pandemic.

But if you didn't receive a check from the first or second stimulus packages even though you may have qualified, you can claim these payments in your taxes through something called a Recovery Rebate Credit. The IRS provides instructions on how to include this credit in your taxes (note: you'll need to look for a letter the IRS sent out to those who didn't receive a check called a 1444 Notice).

In the case of undocumented workers, López pointed out that California calculates their eligibility for state aid using their state tax returns, information linked to their Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

An ITIN is a number created by the IRS for taxpayers who don’t have a Social Security number due to their immigration status. While an ITIN helps navigate taxation, it doesn’t provide any privileges or protections. Learn more about how to apply for an ITIN.

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Keeping Track of the California Earned Income Tax Credit

For the first time ever, undocumented workers will also be eligible for the California Earned Income Tax Credit this year. This rebate – for Californians who earn up to $30,000 – can provide as much as $3,027 depending on the number of children you have.

“This will also be included in your state taxes. Qualifying for the EITC means you qualify for the Golden State Stimulus,” López said. Households that get the state EITC will also be eligible for that one-time $600 pandemic stimulus payment.

But to be eligible, make sure you include the California Earned Income Tax Credit FTB 3514 form in your filing, or make sure to ask your tax preparer. Learn more about organizations offering free tax assistance in the Bay Area here.

In the case of families with mixed status, where the head of household is undocumented and the spouse or children have a legal immigration status, “that is not an obstacle any more to receive the California EITC. If the taxpayer has a valid ITIN number and makes under $30,000, they should qualify,” López pointed out.

While ITIN holders qualify for the California EITC, they still are ineligible for the federal earned income tax credit.

López also highlighted how important it is to distinguish between government aid — like stimulus checks and rebates — and taxable benefits like unemployment.

"You have to report what you got from unemployment as part of your income," she said, while clarifying that stimulus checks – either from the state or federal government – are not taxable.

When Will I Get My California Stimulus Payment?

While California approved the Golden State Stimulus plan back in February, which includes a one-time payment of $600 for anyone who earned less than $30,000 last year, many residents are still waiting on their money after having filed their 2020 taxes.

The original timeline provided by the Department of Finance in March specified that eligible taxpayers who filed their 2020 taxes with direct deposit should expect to receive their rebate within a period of up to 45 days, while those without direct deposit may have to wait up to 60 days. That timeline is still accurate, according to the state.

On top of that $600 stimulus check, Californians receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) qualify for additional $600 grants. Originally, the state intended to send this aid as a separate payment, but after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 86 on April 16, the money will be added to each recipient’s monthly SSI check.

“With that now enacted, the grant payments should be received by individuals in the next six to eight weeks,” said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs for California’s Department of Finance, on April 16. According to that timeline, those receiving SSI should see the extra $600 added their benefits by mid-June.

Palmer also provided an update on the status of the state's additional $600 grant payments to families receiving CalWORKs, the state’s aid program for families with scarce resources. “All eligible CalWORKs families have received their Golden State Grant payment,” he said.

All CalWORKs Golden State grants were processed on March 27 and April 2, and the Department of Social Services sent out a voice notification to eligible families to confirm the status of the payments. According to the voice notification, families who receive their monthly CalWORKS aid by check will receive the additional $600 in the mail by the end of April.

If you receive CalWORKs benefits and have questions about the eligibility requirements for the CalWORKs Golden State grant, send an email to the Department of Social Services.

Applying for San Francisco’s Working Families Credit

While you don't need to do anything more than file your taxes to qualify for state rebates, applying for San Francisco’s Working Families Credit requires a little more work.

Taxpayers must have already filed their 2020 taxes before filling out a separate WFC application, explained Chandra Johnson, communications director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency (SFHSA), the office that’s managing the application process for this aid.

“We’re encouraging all families with low- to moderate-income to apply,” Johnson said. “While they are working on preparing their taxes either individually or working with San Francisco’s free tax assistance centers, we want to make sure that they know that this credit is available for them,” she added.

If you applied for and received this credit for your 2019 taxes, you'll automatically get a COVID-19 relief payment of $250 this year, no application required. But you'll have to apply again after filing your 2020 taxes to get this year's $250 credit (in addition to the automatic pandemic relief payment). SFHSA estimates about 4,000 families will be eligible for that $500 total combined credit.

“It’s something we haven’t done before. It’s something designed to be a local stimulus,” Johnson said. “We know families that received the credit last year are already some of the lowest-income working families here in the city. So in many instances, they’re continuing to face economic disparities that have worsened.”

To be considered for the WFC, a taxpayer must claim at least one dependent child. And while the income cap for legal residents to qualify is $56,844, the maximum is much lower for undocumented workers — $30,000 — as it’s based on California EITC parameters. This is the first year the WFC is being made available to taxpayers who file with an ITIN, such as undocumented workers.

Get started on your WFC application (available in six languages) and find organizations that can help you complete it, either virtually or in person, by going here.

How to Request an ITIN

If you do not have a Social Security number, you'll need to file your taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The only agency that can grant an ITIN is the IRS. But an organization or person trained and authorized by the IRS – a certifying acceptance agent (CAA) – can help you request an ITIN.

When you apply for an ITIN, whether by yourself or with the help of a CAA, you’ll need to print, fill out and mail a W-7 form, which requires supporting documentation to verify your identity and foreign status.

Immigration Coverage

While documents like a driver’s license (U.S. or foreign), a birth certificate or medical records can be used for either category, your passport checks off both boxes, as long as it’s valid and has a date of entry into the country marked by U.S. immigration authorities.

If you complete the W-7 form by yourself, keep in mind that you will have to mail the IRS your passport or other documentation you’ll be using – and you won’t get them back until the IRS makes its decision about granting you an ITIN number.

But if you apply with the help of a CAA, you can keep your documents throughout the process.

“As a CAA, we certify the documents the IRS asks for, and this way folks don’t need to be without their documentation for an extended period of time,” the Unity Council's Yolanda López explained.

“As an organization, it’s not us that gives someone their ITIN, all we do is help throughout the process,” she said, pointing out that if someone seeks the help of a CAA, they should make sure that the person or organization has been recognized by the IRS.

The Unity Council has been helping folks get their ITIN for this tax season since the end of last year, as hearing back from the IRS can take several weeks. If you’re planning to request an ITIN for this year, López said it’s best to start as soon as possible.

Organizations Offering Free Tax Assistance in the Bay Area

Alameda County

  • In Oakland, the Unity Council offers in-person appointments for tax and ITIN assistance in English, Mandarin and Spanish. Appointments available on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To set up a time, call (510) 535-6101
  • Also in Oakland, the Acts Full Gospel Church offers tax assistance through drop-off services at its 1034 66th Ave. location on some Saturdays. No appointment required. For more information, call (510) 567-1300
  • In Hayward, the Community Child Care Coordinating Council has partnered with VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) to provide virtual tax assistance through its website. For more information, call (510) 690-2141
  • For a full list of tax assistance centers, visit United Way Bay Area’s website or call 211

Contra Costa County

  • In San Pablo, Lao Family Community Development offers tax assistance through drop-off services at 1865 Rumrill Blvd. (Suite B) on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No appointment required. For more information, call (510) 215 1220. Help available in English and Spanish
  • In Bay Point, the Bay Point Works Community Career Center offers drop-off tax assistance at 3105 Willows Pass Rd. on weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. No appointment required but due to high demand, call (925) 252-2331 when you have arrived at the office. Help available in English, Tongan and Spanish
  • For a full list of tax assistance centers, visit United Way Bay Area’s website or call 211

Marin County

  • In San Rafael, Canal Alliance offers virtual appointments every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until April 10. By appointment only. In English and Spanish. To set up a time, call (415) 526-7500
  • Also in San Rafael, Community Action Marin offers drop-off tax assistance services and virtual appointments in English and Spanish. To set up an appointment, call (707) 395-0938. Assistance is only available to those that make less than $60,000 per year
  • To locate other tax assistance centers, call 211 or check out the IRS VITA locator tool

Napa County

  • In Napa, Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center offers both walk-ins and appointments for assistance in the ITIN process in English and Spanish. In-person help is available at 952 Napa St. from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. To schedule an appointment call (707) 224-1786
  • In St. Helena and Calistoga, UpValley Family Centers offer in-person tax and ITIN assistance in English and Spanish. In-person help is available at 1500 Cedar St. in Calistoga and 1440 Spring St. in St. Helena. Appointments are required and are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and select Saturdays. To schedule a time, call (707) 965-5010
  • For a full list of tax assistance centers, visit United Way Bay Area’s website or call 211

San Francisco

  • Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) offers both walk-ins and appointments for assistance in the ITIN process in English and Spanish. In-person help is available at 701 Alabama St. every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (415) 612-2014 for more information
  • San Francisco Community Empowerment Center offers virtual and in-person appointments in English, Cantonese and Vietnamese. Call (415) 467-1929 to make an appointment from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Chinese Newcomers Service Center offers virtual appointments in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese. Call (415) 421-2111 to make an appointment from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • For a full list of tax assistance centers, visit United Way Bay Area’s website or call 211

San Mateo County

  • In Redwood City, the Fair Oaks Community Center offers virtual appointments and drop off services in English and Spanish. To set up a time, call (415) 229-9240 or (650) 780-7500
  • In East Palo Alto, the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center provides virtual appointments in English and Spanish. To set up a time and find out if you qualify, call (650) 321-2193
  • In San Mateo, SparkPoint and VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) offer virtual appointments for College of San Mateo students and residents who filed their taxes at this VITA site last year. To find out if you qualify and to make an appointment, email vita@smccd.edu
  • For a full list of tax assistance centers, visit United Way Bay Area’s website or call 211

Santa Clara County

  • In San Jose, Sacred Heart Community Service offers drop-off services where taxpayers can schedule a time to drop off required documents. For times, call (408) 715-1951 or email taxhelp@sacredheartcs.org. Assistance is only offered to those who made less than $66,000 in 2020
  • The San Jose Public Library has partnered with VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) to provide in-person assistance at the Hillview Branch every Saturday until April 10 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in English, Vietnamese and Thai. No walk-ins accepted. To make an appointment, call (408) 729-9512. Assistance is only offered to those who made less than $57,000 in 2020
  • For a full list of tax assistance centers, visit United Way Bay Area’s website or call 211

Solano County

  • In Benicia, the Benicia Community Action Council offers drop-off services where taxpayers can schedule a time to drop off required documents. For times, call (707) 745-0900 on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • To locate other tax assistance centers you can call 211 or check out the IRS VITA locator tool

Sonoma County

  • In Santa Rosa, the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County offers drop-off services. To pick up a package and schedule a drop-off time, call (707) 544-6911 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Assistance is only available to those that make less than $66,000 per year
  • In Healdsburg, Corazón Healdsburg offers drop-off tax assistance services on Mondays and Fridays in English and Spanish. To set up a time to drop off your tax information, call (707) 395-0938. Assistance is only available to those that make less than $60,000 per year
  • To locate other tax assistance centers you can call 211 or check out the IRS VITA locator tool.

A Breakdown of the Golden State Stimulus

CalMatters published this easy-to-follow infographic on the Golden State Stimulus, including which Californians qualify and when they can expect to receive aid.


A version of this story was originally published on March 8. This story includes reporting from KQED's Mary Franklin Harvin.

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