Nearly 30 million retired, disabled and other vulnerable Americans may still face a 10-day wait for COVID-19 stimulus checks after the Internal Revenue Service receives necessary electronic files from the Social Security Administration.
In an email, an SSA spokesperson told MassLive that the agency expects the final electronic files of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients to be delivered to the IRS Thursday following a notification “we received just yesterday from (the IRS) that testing was successful.”
A Democratic aide told MassLive that it may be at least 10 days before beneficiaries see their payments. Recipients over the last several days have clamored over social media for immediate assistance, with many noting they had not faced such delays in previous stimulus rounds. The IRS has already issued nearly 130 million payments to Americans since March 12.
The sending of the files comes a day after Democratic lawmakers, led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, gave SSA officials 24 hours to get them to IRS. MassLive reported Wednesday that IRS asked SSA to start sending payment files two weeks before President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan became law, according to the lawmakers.
“As of today, SSA still has not provided the IRS with the payment files that are needed to issue EIPs to these struggling Americans,” the lawmakers wrote Wednesday. “We demand that you immediately provide the IRS this information by tomorrow, March 25, 2021.”
The lawmakers called the hold up “inexplicable” just a day after they wrote to the IRS and SSA to say there are no excuses for delays of the approved $1,400 stimulus checks to vulnerable Americans who receive income through Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs and the Railroad Retirement Board.
The wait came as some Democratic lawmakers have urged Biden to fire SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black, who were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey, who joined Neal in the letter, recently repeated calls to fire Trump appointees he alleged were “trying to dismantle Social Security. Their inability to get out stimulus checks is another reason they need to be shown the exit.”
SSA did not respond to a question regarding the calls to oust leadership.
Steve Richardson, SSA communications director for the New England region, said “the immediate delivery” of the payments is the agency’s “top priority.”
“Social Security Disability beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients are frequently among the most vulnerable in society,” he said. “We owe it to them to move swiftly — and we have done so. Social Security staff is working day and night with Treasury and IRS representatives to ensure that the electronic file of Social Security and SSI recipients is complete, accurate and ready to be used to issue payments.”
Richardson said the agency will continue to coordinate with IRS until all payments are made.
In explaining the delay, Richardson noted that unlike last year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the American Rescue Plan did not directly appropriate funds or establish “a reimbursable agreement with IRS to fund us for our work to support their issuance” of the payments.
Both before and after Biden’s relief bill became law, SSA discussed with Treasury and IRS that the agency “is unable by law to use our administrative appropriation to conduct work on any non-mission provision or program,” he said.
“We have been aggressively working with Treasury and IRS since passage and successfully signed the reimbursable agreement in less than one week after passage (on March 17th),” he added. “We sent test files to IRS a few days following the execution of this agreement.”
In a joint statement, the Democratic lawmakers on Ways and Means said SSA notified them that the payment files were transmitted before 9 a.m. on Thursday.
“We are gratified that the SSA leadership finally recognized the urgency of the moment and acted swiftly on our ultimatum,” they said. “None of this would be possible without the hard work of SSA’s dedicated public servants and leadership from the White House.”
The lawmakers still pegged Saul for what they painted as unnecessary delays.
“The landmark American Rescue Plan was enacted by Congress and signed by President Biden to provide relief to Americans struggling to survive the pandemic,” they said. “The delays imposed by Commissioner Saul defied congressional intent and imposed needless anxiety and pain on taxpayers. Now the IRS needs to do its job and get these overdue payments out to suffering Americans. Further delays will not be tolerated by this committee.”
On Thursday, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts noted his office had fielded many calls over the wait on checks. He added that he hoped “they can all the Trump holdovers, period, and I believe they will.”
The direct payments are meant to send $1,400 to adults earning less than $75,000 and couples less than $150,000, as well as $1,400 for dependents. The checks phase out for Americans making more than $75,000, with a hard cut-off at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples.
The three major stimulus packages have made clear that those who do not earn enough to file taxes, including many of the beneficiaries the Democratic lawmakers pressed IRS and SSA about, are eligible for payments. The IRS used Social Security information on file to issue payments to recipients of retirement or disability benefits.
The IRS in a news release Wednesday said more information about Social Security-linked payments “will be provided on IRS.gov as soon as it becomes available.”
Overall, the IRS has disbursed more than $325 billion in nearly 127 million payments across the country.
The first batch of payments came through direct deposit to Americans whose banking information was already on file with the IRS. Another batch including direct deposit, paper checks and debit cards, immediately followed, making up about 37 million payments totaling $83 billion, the IRS said.