As President Joe Biden advocates for sending additional stimulus checks to millions of Americans, he is also moving help those who missed out on earlier payments.
On Friday, Biden issued an executive order asking the Treasury Department to re-evaluate its delivery structure for stimulus checks to make sure all Americans who are entitled to the payments receive them.
An estimated 8 million eligible Americans did not receive the first $1,200 stimulus checks authorized through the CARES Act, according to Biden's order. Those same people could have also been left out of the $600 checks that were issued in December.
The Treasury Department can help rectify this by creating online tools for this population to claim their payments and establishing outreach efforts to let people know they could qualify for the money.
"It's a good sign that the administration is prioritizing this group of people who didn't get their payments, and is generally very low income and needs the help the most," said Samantha Jacoby, senior tax legal analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The new moves follow other efforts that were made last year to address this population.
The IRS launched an online non-filer tool by which individuals could submit their personal information in order to receive the money. It was simpler than a tax return. At the same time, the government also launched a media campaign and sent letters to 9 million people to let them know they could qualify for checks.
At a hearing last fall, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig estimated that 8 million eligible people still had not used the non-filer portal.
And the number of people who are missing checks could be even bigger today, Jacoby said.
That's because the $600 checks authorized by Congress last month expanded eligibility to include families with mixed-status households, where only one spouse has a Social Security number. Now, family members including spouses and children who hold Social Security numbers are eligible for those payments. That applies retroactively to the $1,200 CARES Act checks.
"I am hopeful that the IRS will revamp the non-filer portal for this year," Jacoby said. "It's certainly easier than filing a tax return."
The tool could be made more user-friendly, such as adding compatibility for mobile phones and making it easier for non-English speakers, she said.
In a statement released on Friday, the Treasury Department said it plans to add simple options for people who have not filed tax returns, including those who do not have internet access or do not speak English.
The agency also said it plans to reach out to people regarding "hundreds of thousands" of unused $1,200 checks or debit cards that were sent. The Treasury Department and IRS will either reissue payments or encourage those affected to claim the money on their 2020 tax returns.
In addition, the agency plans to evaluate where more households have not received the money in order to better target their outreach to affected ZIP codes.
"As part of this new effort, Treasury will build on that work done to date – incorporating lessons learned over the past year – to reach households who either were not issued payments or who otherwise were unable to access their funds," the agency said in a statement.
For now, IRS is urging those who are still missing payments to file for a recovery rebate credit when they submit their tax returns. This year, the tax filing season will launch on Feb. 12.
"If someone wants to get their payment as soon as possible, they should submit a tax return the first day the IRS starts to accept returns," Jacoby said.