$23 Million In Stimulus Checks Are Unclaimed
Friday, August 1, 2008
More than 77,900 low-income senior citizens, disabled veterans and others in the Washington region have not filed to receive the economic stimulus checks sent to millions of U.S. taxpayers this spring, pushing federal and state authorities to redouble their efforts to inform more people that they are eligible.
Those unclaimed checks total more than $23 million, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Some of those people, who do not file tax returns, apparently were not aware that they were eligible for the money or did not file to get the payment.
Under the $170 billion stimulus package Congress approved to boost the economy, most taxpayers are eligible for rebates of as much as $600 ($1,200 for married couples). Parents also receive $300 for each child younger than 17.
Some people who do not file tax returns, including low-income seniors, disabled veterans, disabled people receiving Social Security and some retired railroad workers, are also eligible for the rebates, but they must go through a special filing process to receive them.
Internal Revenue Service officials identified about 20 million such people nationwide this year and sent them letters explaining their eligibility, along with a tax form and instructions. But 5.2 million of those eligible have not claimed more than $1.6 billion in benefits, according to the center's analysis. The IRS sent out another round of eligibility letters last week.
Almost 21,000 Northern Virginia residents are eligible for a total of $6.2 million. In the District's Maryland suburbs, a total of $12.5 million awaits 41,975 people. In the District, more than 15,000 people are eligible for checks totaling $4.5 million.
In all of Virginia, Maryland and the District, more than 235,000 people are eligible for a total of almost $71 million.
The areas in Maryland with the highest concentration of unclaimed rebates are Baltimore and Prince George's and Baltimore counties. In Virginia, Fairfax and Henrico counties and Virginia Beach have the most.
As of July 11, 112 million payments totaling $92 billion had been made to taxpayers nationwide, federal officials said.
As energy, food and health-care costs continue to rise, the rebates can provide struggling families some relief, advocates and federal officials said.
"For people on a fixed income, this is money that can help," said Nancy Mathis, an IRS spokeswoman.
She said the difficulty has been in reaching people who did not receive or did not respond to the first mailing. The IRS is working with several organizations, including AARP, United Way and the Community Action Partnership, to develop online and community outreach efforts. Advocacy groups have been visiting retirement communities and nursing homes to seek those who have been hard to find. And tax-filing centers and other advocacy organizations that help with tax counseling have reached out past their usual April 15 end date. The IRS even sent letters to the nationally syndicated "Dear Abby" column, advertising that checks were on their way and highlighting the fact that low-income seniors and disabled veterans need to file a return.
Those who have not filed have until Oct. 15 to do so.
"We've used just about any platform we could to get the word out to people," said Jim Dau, a spokesman for AARP, which has an extensive tax-filing assistance network that it will extend into the fall. "When you think about food costs and energy, health care and gas skyrocketing, $300 may not sound like a lot, but it goes a long way," he said.
Many states are also supplementing the federal efforts. This fall, Virginia officials will use the state's network of 25 Area Aging Agencies, which are dedicated to senior issues, to get the word out. And because the IRS has statistics on the neighborhoods with the heaviest concentrations of eligible people, officials will be able to target their outreach efforts.
In Maryland, state and local officials have worked through local chapters of Community Action Partnership, which works with senior citizens, veterans and low-income people across the county.
"The main thing is getting help to the people who need the most help," said Donna Cohen Ross, outreach director for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "These are often the most vulnerable citizens we're talking about here."