Personal Finance

Some coronavirus stimulus checks go out without $500 for qualifying children

Key Points
  • The government is sending out millions of checks for up to $1,200 per individual and $500 for eligible children to help stave off the negative financial effects of the coronavirus crisis.
  • Some families who received their payments this week also got an unwelcome surprise: Their children under 17 did not receive the $500 payments due to them.
  • Those families say they are struggling without that money and here's what members of Congress and the IRS have said so far about the situation.
NoDerog | E+ | Getty Images

Millions of families are counting on government stimulus payments to get some financial relief amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, some are opening their bank accounts to find an unwelcome surprise: payments that exclude their qualifying children.

Many complaints are coming from one particular group: individuals who are receiving government benefits such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or veterans benefits.

Following legislation passed by Congress, individuals are eligible for one-time payments of up to $1,200, or $2,400 per married couple, plus $500 for each of their children under age 17.

So a family with three qualifying children could find $1,500 missing from their stimulus money if their dependents are not included.

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That's exactly what happened to Jessica Prien, 36, of Idaho. Prien currently lives on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) after she was diagnosed with a medical condition that precluded her from working. Because she uses a wheelchair, her husband has taken time off from his career to help with her care.

The family typically does not file tax returns. So when the government announced that Jessica and her husband would have to enter information on their dependents into a tool for non-filers, Prien eagerly submitted information on their three children on April 9.

The following day, she received confirmation that their information had been accepted.

To her surprise, when the family's stimulus check arrived this week, it was for $2,400, excluding the $1,500 for her children ages 9, 10 and 15.

Jessica Prien, right, with her husband, was disappointed this week to find that their three children were not included in their stimulus checks.
Jessica Prien

The family had been counting on that money to help with moving costs because the property they live in is being sold.

"Now we're in more of a difficult situation," Prien said. "It just puts more stress on our family."

After checking on the internet and social media, Prien said she noticed a pattern of other parents and caretakers who were also experiencing the same thing.

"We all filled out the non-filer form, we received confirmation," she said. "A lot of us can even go back and see the form and see that our children or dependents are listed under it.

"And so it's so weird that it was left out."

I don't know how many people were able to file and, out of that group, how many actually got the right amount or didn't.
Nancy Altman
president of Social Security Works

Nancy Altman, president of advocacy organization Social Security Works, said she has heard anecdotally of other families who are having the same experience.

"I don't know how many people were able to file and, out of that group, how many actually got the right amount or didn't," Altman said.

There are about 4 million children receiving Social Security benefits for reasons such as their parents being deceased, disabled or retired.

"It's not a small number of people we're talking about," Altman said.

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The government has made efforts to address this population because stimulus payments are based on prior tax returns and these populations often don't file because their incomes are so low.

That led the IRS to offer the non-filer tool, whereby individuals and families can submit their information.

Because the government is working to send out those payments as soon as possible, deadlines were set for certain categories of beneficiaries.

On April 20, the IRS announced that Social Security and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries had until noon on April 22 to submit information on their qualifying dependents to make sure they were included in their stimulus payments.

Then, on April 24, the agency said that beneficiaries receiving SSI or VA benefits would need to do the same by May 5.

Some lawmakers have objected to the tight deadlines.

On April 23, a group of 40 senators wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul.

"We urge your agencies to continue providing access to the non-filers tool after non-filers have received their initial automatic stimulus payments, so that these economically vulnerable individuals can request and receive additional payments for dependent children prior to 2021," the senators wrote.

The most recent guidance from the IRS  says that those who miss dependent payments now will have to wait until they file a 2020 tax return to receive that money.

It's a Catch 22, as many government beneficiaries typically don't file tax returns because they have low to no taxable income.

Meanwhile, many of those families say they need the money now. 

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Kira Cantrell, 35, of Colorado, said it was "crushing" to see the $500 for her 16-year-old daughter missing from her stimulus payment.

Cantrell receives Social Security disability benefits that include monthly payments for her daughter. Still, she entered her information into the non-filer tool prior to the deadline.

"They have that I have a dependent in the system already, so I wasn't worried," Cantrell said. "I claimed her anyway just to be safe."

Not having that extra $500 now is difficult, Cantrell said. Because her own mother is also ill, they have had to rely on delivery services for their groceries and medications, which is more expensive. Plus, their food costs have gone up.

"I was counting on that money to be able to get more groceries this month," Cantrell said. "We are just depleted completely."

Tina Mitchell, 36, a married mother of three children in New York, said a lower stimulus payment has "put a damper on some of the plans that we had."

Tina Mitchell, far right, pictured with her husband and three children, said receiving a lower stimulus payment will set the family back financially.
Tina Mitchell

Mitchell, an SSI beneficiary, put the family's information into the non-filer system on April 10. She said she  can still pull up her entry and see her children listed. But when her stimulus payment arrived this week, it included money just for her and her husband.

"We are so lost as to what happened," Mitchell said.

"It looks like they overlooked it, or there was a glitch or something," she said.

Now the family won't be able to get their car repaired or catch up on back rent from the past few months, as they had planned.

"It kind of just makes you a little depressed," Mitchell said. "We had plans, now we're sitting out in the rain."