April 01, 2020

Amidst Conflicting Guidance From IRS, Gillibrand Calls On Trump Administration To Simplify Access To Direct Cash Assistance For Social Security Recipients

Treasury Department and SSA Must Ease Burdens on Social Security Beneficiaries, Enforce Guidelines in CARES Act Ordering Direct Payments To Recipients Who Did Not File A Tax Return

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called on the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to ensure that all Social Security beneficiaries will automatically receive the direct cash assistance included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act without having to file tax returns. The CARES Act, which was signed into law last week, gives Treasury the authority to send direct cash assistance to social security recipients, even if they have not filed a tax return. However, earlier this week the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released contradictory guidelines that Social Security beneficiaries would need to file tax returns in order to receive direct payments.

“The administration must enforce the guidelines as detailed in the CARES Act and administer direct cash assistance to social security recipients,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Requiring tax returns places undue burden on social security recipients  like retired seniors and individuals with disabilities — who have difficulty filing their returns. To ensure these direct payments get into the hands of those who need it the most, I urge the administration to make them as accessible as possible.”

Senator Gillibrand signed the letter alongside more than 40 of her Senate colleagues including Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Full text of the letter can be found here an here and below:

Dear Secretary Mnuchin and Commissioner Saul:

The COVID-19 public health emergency is taking a massive economic toll on families across the country. To provide immediate financial assistance to struggling individuals during this crisis, Congress passed and the President signed the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This legislation directly provides most Americans with stimulus payments to help cover necessary personal expenses.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will automatically send stimulus payments to eligible taxpayers who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return. However, many Social Security beneficiaries, including retired seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, typically do not file tax returns. To ensure that these vulnerable individuals automatically receive stimulus payments, the CARES Act explicitly provides the Treasury Department with the authority to provide payments to seniors receiving Social Security retirement benefits and to individuals receiving Social Security disability benefits, even if these individuals do not file tax returns.

Unfortunately, on March 30, the IRS published guidance indicating that the agency may require recipients of Social Security retirement and disability benefits to file 2019 tax returns to receive stimulus payments. This filing requirement would place a significant burden on retired seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, especially given the current unavailability of tax filing assistance from Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Along with colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee, we strongly urge you to ensure that economic stimulus payments are automatically sent to vulnerable seniors and individuals who experience disabilities, without these individuals needing to file a tax return.

Sincerely,