Alabama should ensure all eligible residents receive federal stimulus payments

Alabama and the nation are facing an economic crisis like nothing we’ve ever seen. More than 13% of Alabama households don’t have enough money to feed their families, the Census Bureau reports. Nearly half of Alabama’s renters may face eviction in the near future.

Meanwhile, an estimated 267,000 eligible Alabamians have not received their federal stimulus payments of $1,200 per eligible adult and $500 per eligible child. Altogether, the IRS still owes Alabama families more than $260 million in stimulus money. The application deadline is Oct. 15, 2020, so outreach efforts are crucial to ensure hundreds of thousands of Alabamians don’t miss out.

Many eligible people have not yet applied for payments

Congress created the payments (called Economic Impact Payments) in March as part of the CARES Act, a COVID-19 relief package. Income-eligible people who filed income taxes for 2018 or who receive Social Security, SSI, veterans’ benefits or other direct federal benefits automatically received stimulus payments.

But other eligible people must apply to the IRS to receive the payments. About 12 million Americans are eligible for a stimulus payment but not eligible for automatic payments, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates.

The range of people who are ineligible for automatic payments is wide. They can include people who face long-term unemployment or don’t earn enough to have to file taxes. They also may include people who have chronic health problems but who do not draw disability benefits. And they can include young people aging out of foster care or low-income students lacking their family’s financial support.

These eligible Americans are disproportionately people of color due to higher poverty rates resulting from long-standing employment discrimination. They’re more likely to have less education and struggle with homelessness or housing insecurity. And they’re more likely to be hit the hardest during the COVID-19 recession.

Stimulus payments help families and the economy

Stimulus payments help Alabama families get caught up on rent, utilities and grocery bills. They’re also an important economic boost for the state. Every $1 in stimulus payments to struggling households can yield 1.5 times as much in economic activity because the money gets spent almost immediately. Drawing down the missing $260 million in stimulus payments would ease suffering and help Alabama’s economy endure the recession.

How to apply for a stimulus payment

Eligible people who didn’t receive an automatic payment can apply directly to the IRS using the “Non-Filer” tool. For a household to receive a payment, every person in the household must have a Social Security number. Only U.S. citizens and authorized permanent residents are eligible for payments. Click here to find out more about how to apply for a stimulus payment.

Alabama needs to get the word out

State agencies have an important role to play in outreach to people who have not yet claimed their stimulus payment. Of the 12 million Americans who didn’t automatically qualify, three-fourths participate in Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

If our state’s numbers follow the national trend, that would mean about 200,000 Alabamians who participate in Medicaid or SNAP are eligible for stimulus payments but haven’t received them yet. More than a third of them are children, and therefore probably receiving Medicaid. Another third are older adults without children.

Alabama’s Medicaid and SNAP officials can help enrollees by encouraging them to apply for stimulus payments and explaining how. Nonprofit agencies, especially those offering assistance with housing and utilities, likewise can help their clients apply for payments. And elected officials can use traditional and social media to encourage Alabamians to apply for the help available to them.

These are challenging times. But if we all pull together and take care of each other, we can get through them. One good step would be to ensure all eligible Alabamians get the federal help they need to make ends meet.