Potentially hundreds to thousands of homeless people who have been waiting months could receive stimulus checks after the Internal Revenue Service lifted a hold on seven addresses in King County.
The Seattle Times reported in April that many homeless people had yet to receive their second and third stimulus checks — a life-changing amount of money for some. At the time, staffers for Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., were asking the IRS about the holdup.
After the Times’ story, other organizations outside of Seattle also reached out to Jayapal’s office with similar issues, according to Chris Evans, a spokesperson for the congresswoman. Day centers in Kirkland, Kent and Federal Way also had holds on them, Evans said.
The IRS will reissue checks to everyone who was affected, Jayapal’s office said in a statement. Neither the IRS nor either congressional office could say how many checks were held up.
“A lot of these organizations didn’t know that this was a problem that other groups were having until they started talking about it with our office,” Evans said. “They each thought it was something that was wrong with their address.”
Nonprofits and advocacy groups had been hearing for much of the past year that the checks most Americans were receiving automatically weren’t coming to their homeless clients. Some case managers even approached the U.S. Postal Service
about the problem but ran into dead ends.
Days before the Times’ original story pointing out the issue, the IRS put out a news release “reminding” people without a permanent address they could still file taxes and saying they were “working hard” on getting checks out, but admitted they needed to do more.
But when The Times asked about why checks weren’t being delivered to homeless people who had filed, the IRS said that was a Treasury Department issue. On Monday, an IRS spokesperson did confirm the agency’s internal systems flagged the addresses. The agency didn’t provide any other details on the record.
The IRS’ system often flags addresses where many — in this case, hundreds — of tax returns or stimulus checks are being requested, Jayapal’s office was told.
“It’s unacceptable that these checks have been delayed and I’ve made that extremely clear to the IRS,” Sen. Murray said in a statement. “I’m pushing IRS and other federal agencies to resolve this situation and get people who are unhoused or don’t have a permanent address their relief payments as quickly as possible.”
Since the Times’ story, homeless nonprofits have been reaching out to their fellow organizations around the state and even in other states about the issue.
Dawn Whitson had been working for months to figure out why the people living outside she works with weren’t receiving their checks at her office at homeless outreach nonprofit REACH. Then on Tuesday, she delivered letters from the IRS to half a dozen of her clients camping in South Park that said the IRS would be reissuing the second and third checks — to the tune of $2,000 — within a week.
“Everyone was so thrilled — just overwhelmingly happy,” Whitson said. “I don’t know if I had gotten to the point where I had lost hope, (but) I was close. I had promised my clients that I would not give up on it.”
Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, who originally contacted Jayapal and Murray about the issue, said she was grateful for the temporary fix — but that there are many other barriers homeless people face in the bureaucratic maze of local, state and federal benefits.
“As staff from Congresswoman Jayapal’s office correctly noted when they informed us of this tremendous heavy lifting that they had been able to do, this doesn’t solve the barriers, this is one important way to get around this set of barriers,” Eisinger said. “What we need are state and federal processes that anticipate and … smooth the path for people to understand and apply for and receive what’s coming to them.”
Tax filers in King County have until Monday, May 17 to file their tax returns.