House Democrats express alarm over slow stimulus checks
House Democrats are expressing alarm that many people who are elderly, disabled or veterans are facing delays in receiving the $1,400 stimulus checks as part of the most recent COVID-19 relief package.
Many people who receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement Board or Veterans Affairs benefits — and don’t have to file tax returns — still haven’t gotten their third stimulus checks nearly two weeks after Biden signed the legislation.
Senior members of the House Ways and Means Committee pressed the heads of the IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA) to offer a timeline this week for speeding up distribution.
On Wednesday, lawmakers pointed to the SSA as the culprit after learning that the IRS requested payment files needed to issue the stimulus checks to nearly 30 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients two weeks before Biden signed the pandemic relief law into effect on March 11.
“We demand that you immediately provide the IRS with this information by tomorrow,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), John Larson (D-Conn.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) wrote in a letter Wednesday to SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul.
Hours after lawmakers sent the letter, the SSA said Wednesday evening that it expects the final files to be delivered to the IRS by Thursday.
A spokesperson for the SSA told The Hill that the agency was in discussions with the Treasury Department and the IRS ahead of time, but did not have the authorization to send the beneficiary files before the pandemic relief law’s enactment.
The SSA had to first establish a reimbursable agreement with the IRS to fund the work providing the beneficiary information and then test the new system in recent days.
“Social Security staff is working day and night with Treasury and IRS representatives to ensure that the electronic file of Social Security and SSI recipients is complete, accurate, and ready to be used to issue payments,” said SSA spokesperson Mark Hinkle.
The IRS issued its second batch of stimulus checks by direct deposit on Wednesday, more than half of which are by paper check or prepaid debit cards that will take some time to go through the mail. About 127 million payments have been disbursed under the latest pandemic relief package so far, the Biden administration said Wednesday.
Some of the issues behind the delays in check distribution in the last two weeks are similar to the two previous rounds distributed under the Trump administration, such as for people who didn’t have direct deposit information on file with the IRS because they didn’t have to file tax returns or if they filed paper returns.
But lawmakers say the delays with getting checks to the low-income government assistance beneficiaries has been slower compared to the previous round of direct payments in December.
“The SSA has to get the damn files to the IRS. They should have had it there yesterday so we can get these payments out. They should have got it last week. These are some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Pascrell told The Hill. “They’re the ones that are getting shafted because government agencies are not doing what they’re supposed to do.”
The Treasury Department, Veterans Affairs Department and Railroad Retirement Board didn’t return requests for comment.
The IRS worked with other agencies for the previous two rounds of stimulus checks to ensure the checks went out to beneficiaries of Social Security and other government assistance who normally didn’t have to file tax returns because their incomes fall below the minimum threshold for filing.
The tax agency also established a tool for non-filers last year to submit information for receiving stimulus checks, but it has since closed.
“The American Rescue Plan was intended to provide much-needed economic stimulus and assistance to people across the country – immediately – and we are counting on your agencies to ensure that beneficiaries are not left behind in the seamless delivery of those payments,” Neal, Pascrell, Larson and Davis wrote in a letter to Saul and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Monday.
“Some of our most vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities, including veterans who served our country with honor, are unable to pay for basic necessities while they wait for their overdue payments,” they wrote.
Rettig and Saul are holdovers from the Trump administration originally nominated to their posts by the former president. Rettig’s term expires in 2022, while Saul’s ends in 2025.
Pascrell called on Biden earlier this month to fire Saul over his proposed restrictions for Social Security disability benefits. The New Jersey Democrat compared the agencies’ issues with stimulus check delays to the U.S. Postal Service, which also currently has a leader who was first appointed while Trump was still president and is experiencing service back ups in mail deliveries.
“This is true of most of the agencies where the Trump people still have a sway,” Pascrell said.
Updated: 7:55 p.m.