How Homeless People Can Access Stimulus Payments


On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced it was working to quickly deliver the third round of Economic Impact Payments authorized by Congress in the American Rescue Plan Act to millions of Americans.

A majority of the $1,400 Economic Impact Payment (EIP) included in the Act will be direct-deposited into taxpayers’ accounts, the agency said. But, for people without bank accounts or fixed addresses like people experiencing homelessness, the process can be tougher.

Between filing taxes, finding a stable address, and waiting for the funds to land in a bank account or mailbox, people experiencing homelessness often face unnecessary delays in receiving their stimulus payments.

Similarly, debt collectors are currently allowed to seize stimulus payments as compensation. While lawmakers are working to remedy this problem, many people experiencing homelessness need access to their EIPs today.

Here are a few ways homeless people can recover their EIPs.

Filing Taxes

It’s important to remember that there aren’t any income floors for people to qualify for EIP. People who earned no literal income in either 2018 or 2019 qualify for all three payments.

Last year, homeless people were directed to register with the IRS through the free Non-Filers program to claim their stimulus payment. The deadline for filing through this program was November 21, 2020.

Anyone attempting to claim their stimulus after that date needs to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return, the agency said. This credit gives filers access to all three stimulus payments. People experiencing homelessness can get help with filing a tax return at any of the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites.

The Treasury Department announced on March 17 that it is extending the deadline for people to file tax returns from April 15 to May 17.

Finding a Stable Address

However, the IRS struggles to deliver payments to persons who do not file tax returns because they did not have information on these claimants or where to send the money. To get around the problem, the IRS coordinated with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

People who are not required to file tax returns also qualify for payment. This includes poverty-stricken individuals, railroad retirees and individuals collecting social security. However, the individual may need to file a tax return to claim the payment, the IRS said.

Individuals who do not have a bank account but are associated with one or more of these benefits should look for an EIP debit card or a paper check in their mailbox.

“The IRS urges people who don’t normally file a tax return and haven’t received any stimulus payments to look into their filing options. The IRS will continue reaching out to non-filers so that as many eligible people as possible receive the stimulus payments they’re entitled to,” the agency said.

People experiencing homelessness can often use the address of service providers like overnight shelters, health care clinics, drop-in day centers, to file their taxes. Those who use one of these addresses need to guarantee they will be able to return to the address to pick up their payment.

Opening a Bank Account

The fastest way to receive a stimulus payment is through a direct deposit into a bank account. However, people experiencing homelessness often avoid banking because they lack identifying documents, bank account activity fees, and minimum deposit requirements, or their applications are rejected altogether if they have a low credit score.

Luckily, some banks waive fees and minimum deposits for low-to-no-income customers. Others do not use Chexsystems, a national credit reporting agency created by the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, to determine eligibility.

Some banks that do not use Chexsystems include:

  • BBVA Compass
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • SunTrust Bank

A variety of other institutions offer second-chance checking accounts to help new members with bad credit enter the banking system. Some examples include Wells Fargo, US Bank Safe, and United Bank.

People experiencing homelessness can also use the address of a shelter or service provider to open a bank account.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC), which regulates and ensures banking transactions, 5.4 percent of Americans are “unbanked,” meaning no member of a household has a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union. This is the lowest total since the survey began in 2009.

Youths Experiencing Homelessness

Youths experiencing homelessness are also eligible for all three stimulus payments, even if they were incorrectly claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

If a youth was incorrectly claimed, the IRS said the youth should attach a written explanation to their tax return clearly stating so and that they should receive the EIP on their own behalf.

The letter should contain:

  • Names of the claimants
  • Dates in question
  • Contact information to help the IRS verify the claims

The IRS has also partnered with several youth organizations to help homeless youths file their tax returns. SchoolHouse Connection, a youth homelessness advocacy organization, recommends tying this tax return to a bank account to help youths retain control over their EIP funds.

Other Payments and Services

While the federal EIP represents the largest one-time stimulus available to people experiencing homelessness, several state-level programs are offering additional relief.

California passed a $9.6 billion economic recovery package in mid-February that offers residents $600 stimulus payments. These funds are also available to low-income and homeless Californians.

The City of Philadelphia partnered with Bank On, a financial empowerment firm, to help low-income residents open safe and affordable bank accounts to receive their EIPs. The accounts require a $25 minimum deposit but offer no monthly or overdraft fees.

In Seattle, a nonprofit called Mary’s Place is working with the local unhoused community to receive their EIPs. The organization provides shelter and services for women, children, and families, and is allowing its guests to use their address for tax filings with the IRS.

Meanwhile, good Samaritans are also donating their stimulus checks directly to their unhoused communities. In Dallas, a teacher gave his entire second stimulus check to local homeless people. His hope was to inspire others who are fortunate to continue working to do the same.

“I felt it a little unfair that I received a stimulus check even though I still have my steady teacher salary. I figured the stimulus check is something a lot of people would relate to, and my hopes were to grow an internet challenge in which people are encouraged to donate their stimulus check if they are able to,” the teacher said.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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