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Why Millions of Americans Still Can't Get Coronavirus Relief Funds

December 15, 2020 (1 min read)

Julia Preston, The Marshall Project, Dec. 15, 2020

"At first it seemed like an infuriating bureaucratic error, the message that kept repeating when Roy Wright called a hotline to find out when he would receive his coronavirus stimulus funds.  “Not available,” it said. Wright said he had paid all his taxes. He manages a car wash in Baltimore, working steadily for the same company for the past 25 years. By April, as the pandemic gutted the city’s economy, the lines of cars were gone. His hours were cut and his income plunged. All around him people were receiving federal payments. Wright soon learned there was no mistake. He would not get the aid because of an exclusion deep in the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Congress passed in March. If any family member filed a return using a taxpayer identification number, a legally valid alternative for people who do not have a Social Security number, the whole family was disqualified from payments. Wright, an American citizen, had filed jointly with his wife, an immigrant from Honduras who is undocumented. Because she was listed with her taxpayer number, he lost out on payments for himself and six children—a total of at least $4,900. ... In the frenetic dealmaking in March that produced the CARES Act, the largest relief bill in United States history, lawmakers took little notice when White House officials, intent on stopping any funds from going to unauthorized immigrants, insisted on language to prevent ITIN taxpayers from receiving payments. The legislation has drawn at least four challenges in federal courts from aggrieved citizen spouses and children. “If you create a family that includes folks of different status, you still have a right to be treated fairly,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which brought a lawsuit in Maryland representing citizens who are in mixed-status couples."