"It is impossible to tell from the outside if this latest outrage is the result of incompetence, mean-spiritedness, or both."
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The Internal Revenue Service is facing backlash following its announcement late Monday that recipients of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits have until 12:00 pm ET on Wednesday to file for $500 coronavirus stimulus payments for their dependent children.
Those who miss the deadline—which the IRS set just a day and a half in advance—will have to wait until next year to receive the $500 payments to which they are entitled under the CARES Act.
"Since the Trump administration already has the information it is seeking, it should pay these benefits without putting additional burdens on Social Security beneficiaries."
—Nancy Altman, Social Security Works
The Wednesday deadline applies only to Social Security and Railroad Retirement recipients who did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 and who have dependent children under the age of 17.
In a statement, the IRS said "$1,200 automatic payments will be starting soon for those receiving Social Security retirement, survivor or disability benefits (SSDI), Railroad Retirement benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who didn't file a tax return in the last two years. No action is needed by these groups; they will automatically receive their $1,200 payment."
"For those benefit recipients with children who aren't required to file a tax return," the agency said, "an extra step is needed to quickly add $500 per eligible child onto their automatic payment of $1,200."
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said "we want to 'Plus $500' these recipients with children so they can get their maximum Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 plus $500 for each eligible child as quickly as possible."
"These groups don't normally have a return filing obligation and may not realize they qualify for a larger payment," said Rettig. "We're asking people and organizations throughout the country to share this information widely and help the IRS with the Plus $500 Push."
A deadline to receive the $500 payments has not yet been set for recipients of veterans benefits and SSI, but those groups should still enter their information using the online tool as quickly as possible, the IRS said.
The IRS announcement sent activists and lawmakers scrambling to notify the public about the deadline. Social Security Works, a progressive advocacy group, told Common Dreams that the deadline is "outrageous" and should not exist.
"It is impossible to tell from the outside if this latest outrage is the result of incompetence, mean-spiritedness, or both," Social Security Works president Nancy Altman said in an emailed statement.
"At first, the Trump administration informed the lowest-income Social Security beneficiaries... that instead of getting their payments automatically, they would have to provide the government with information the government already has," said Altman. "After enormous pushback from Congress and Social Security advocates, the Trump administration reversed course."
Altman described the deadline as "a new roadblock" in the way of vulnerable people at the worst possible moment.
"Adding insult to injury, the Trump administration is requiring that, to avoid that delay, they have to go online—notwithstanding that many of them do not have computers or internet service and are supposed to be sheltering in place—to provide the government with information that it already has," said Altman. "Since the Trump administration already has the information it is seeking, it should pay these benefits without putting additional burdens on Social Security beneficiaries."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a center-left think tank, said it is "dismayed" by the deadline:
We are dismayed by the IRS’s new policy announcement that #SocialSecurity/Railroad Retirement benefits must file a… https://t.co/PPFEcGbtGu— Center on Budget (@Center on Budget)1587426113.0
In a tweet late Monday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) demanded that the IRS extend the deadline.
"The IRS was late in granting these recipients the right to payments without filing tax returns," said Blumenthal. "Now it gives inadequate notice for this dependent claim. It can do better."