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What Social Security and SSI beneficiaries need to know now about their $1,200 stimulus checks

Audrey Saracco / EyeEm

Millions of $1,200 stimulus payments have been sent out to Americans. But some recipients of Social Security or other government benefits are still asking, "Where is my money?"

The stimulus checks were authorized by Congress as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act aimed at helping to reinvigorate the U.S. economy amid the spread of Covid-19.

Many individuals who rely on Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits qualify for those checks.

That's because the payments target low- to middle-income Americans. Full stimulus checks of $1,200 go to individuals with up to $75,000 in income, while married couples who file jointly with up to $150,000 may receive $2,400. Payments are reduced for incomes above those amounts and phase out completely at $99,000 for individuals and $198,000 for married couples.

Meanwhile, children under 17 qualify for $500 payments.

The Social Security Administration recently updated its guidance on the stimulus payments for both Social Security and SSI beneficiaries.

Generally, people who receive those benefits will get their payments automatically, the government has said. But there are situations that could complicate how fast the money goes out.

Beneficiaries who are first in line to get their payments include those who filed federal tax returns that included their direct deposit information. Automatic stimulus payments began on April 15 for those individuals.

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But those who received a tax refund by mail have a longer wait, as they will receive paper stimulus checks instead.

"Payments will be issued on a staggered basis beginning in late April," the Social Security Administration stated in its guidance.

Meanwhile, still other situations could complicate how fast Social Security or SSI beneficiaries get their money.

"Expectations were set very high at the very beginning," said Janet Holtzblatt, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, which has "led to disappointments for people who haven't received it."

How long payments could take

The "staggered" deployment of those checks may be one clue as to why some beneficiaries have not received their payments yet.

According to a Congressional timeline, adult Social Security beneficiaries who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019 and who receive benefits via direct deposit were to receive those payments at the end of April.

For those who instead receive checks by mail, it will presumably take longer.

That same Congressional timeline said paper checks are expected to be issued at a rate of 5 million per week, which could take up to 20 weeks. Last week, the government said it had issued more than 152 million stimulus payments.

About 67.8 million payments should have been sent to Social Security and Railroad Retirement Board beneficiaries, according to data the IRS recently shared with the House Ways and Means Committee. Of those payments, 41 million were processed with tax returns.

Of the 26.8 million remaining payments, 13.7 million should have been received, while another 13.1 million are outstanding.

Data is not yet available for SSI or VA beneficiaries.

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Payments to those who have a representative payee, or someone who receives benefits on your behalf, started on May 22 to those who have either a bank account or Direct Express card on file. Paper checks will be issued to  individuals without accounts or cards starting May 27.

Meanwhile, people who receive SSI benefits were slated to receive their benefit payments by early May in the same way they typically receive benefits.

But some readers have written in with complaints that that has not yet happened. Their payments could have been delayed if their tax returns have not yet been processed or their bank accounts were not on file, Holtzblatt said.

What you can do 

Admittedly, circumstances can vary for beneficiaries based on when they started receiving their benefits and whether they have dependents who also qualify for payments.

If you started receiving Social Security benefits before January of this year, you do not, for the most part, have to do anything to receive your $1,200.

You may have had to use the government's non-filer tool to enter information on any dependents who are eligible for $500 payments if you didn't file tax returns that included them.

But deadlines to enter in that information have already passed for both Social Security and SSI beneficiaries. If you missed the deadline, you will have to wait until you file your taxes for this year to get the $500 payments for your children, according to the government. But your $1,200 payment should not be affected.

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Some readers who did use the tool before the deadline have said that their children still were not included in their stimulus checks. That could be because the IRS has already processed their $1,200 payment when they filed their information.

If you began receiving Social Security benefits on or after Jan. 1, 2020, and you also did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019, you may use the non-filer tool to enter information for both your own stimulus payment and money for qualifying children.

Of note, if you have used the non-filer tool, you will not receive your stimulus check on your Direct Express card, if you have one. Instead, it will be deposited in the bank account you submitted or via paper check by mail.

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