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12 million low-income people could miss out on stimulus payments

By Katie Lobosco, CNN

    (CNN) -- There are about 12 million low-income people who are at risk of missing out on the federal government's stimulus payment program because they don't have to file taxes, according to an estimate from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Most people have received the payment automatically, but many who aren't normally required to file taxes must submit information to the Internal Revenue Service by October 15 in order to receive the cash.

By law, individuals don't have to file if they earn less than $12,200. The threshold is doubled for married couples. Since they aren't in the IRS system, they must file a basic form using an online "non-filer" tool that the agency created for the stimulus program. It asks for names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses or bank account numbers so that the government can send them the money.

More than 4 million people have used the non-filer tool to get payments so far, according to the House Ways and Means Committee.

But it could be hard and costly to reach eligible payment recipients who still haven't filed -- and for them to submit the necessary information even once they are contacted, since that requires an internet connection.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank, is calling on states and counties to help notify people that they may be eligible for the money. It estimates that about 9 million non-filers receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid benefits, which means that states or local agencies have their information on file.

Other non-filers, like those who receive Social Security, Railroad Retirement, Supplemental Security Income or veterans' pension benefits were not required to submit an online form. The IRS used information on record at other government agencies to automatically send them the money.

Congress created the program in late March as part of its $2 trillion coronavirus aid package and the IRS started sending out the first payments in mid-April.

On June 3, the IRS said it had sent money to all eligible Americans for whom it had the necessary information, totaling 159 million payments worth $267 billion. Most were directly deposited into people's bank accounts, but about 35 million people were sent paper checks and another 4 million were sent pre-paid debit cards in the mail.

But the Ways and Means Committee has estimated that there are about 30 to 35 million payments that still need to be made.

There are several reasons some people could still be waiting. Anyone required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 must do so before they are sent the stimulus money. Those who filed a paper return this year may see delays because the agency stopped opening a lot of its mail when it ordered employees to work from home during the pandemic.

Eligibility for the payments is largely based on income, and it excludes individuals earning more than $99,000, head of household filers with one child who earn more than $136,500, and married couples without children earning more than $198,000.

Families earning a little more may still be eligible if they have children. The phase-out limit depends on how many children they have. For a typical family of four, the amount is completely phased out for those with incomes exceeding $218,000.

Those who can be claimed as a dependent for tax purposes, like many college students, are also ineligible for the payments, as well as undocumented immigrants who don't have Social Security numbers. That includes citizens who are married to someone who files taxes using a taxpayer identification number.

The payments are worth up to $1,200 per individual and up to $2,400 per couple, plus an additional $500 for each dependent.

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