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Many Americans Are Still Waiting For Relief Checks From The Federal Government

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tens of millions of Americans are still waiting for their coronavirus relief payments. The $1,200 payments were authorized more than a month ago, and while some people have gotten the money, many others are growing impatient as weeks go by and unpaid bills pile up. And tomorrow is a deadline for certain non-tax filers to connect with the IRS. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So who has gotten their payment, and who has not?

HORSLEY: Well, remember, Ari; individuals making less than $75,000 a year or couples making less than $150,000 a year are entitled to relief payments of $1,200 a person plus $500 for any children under the age of 17. Somewhat smaller payments are available to the people making between 75 and $99,000 and couples making twice that. As of this weekend, the Federal Government said it made about 130 million of those payments, which is a lot. But it means there are still somewhere around 40 million families and individuals who are waiting for their money.

SHAPIRO: And what's the holdup?

HORSLEY: You know, the fastest way for the government to make these payments is a direct deposit from the IRS to some of these bank accounts, but the government couldn't do that for people whose latest tax return didn't include bank account information or who did include bank account information but owe the government money instead of getting a refund. In those cases, the people might have had to wait for a paper check, which, of course, would take longer.

The government has added a feature at the irs.gov website called Get My Payment where people can supply the government with bank account information. They can also use that Get My Payment feature to check on the status of their payment, and that should speed things along. I should say, though, the Get My Payment feature itself has been the source of some frustration. Some users just get a message saying, payment status is not available. And the IRS says it's working on that.

SHAPIRO: Well, what about people who don't file taxes or don't have a bank account?

HORSLEY: Right. There a lot of people who don't have to file a tax return because they don't make enough money, but they're still entitled to this $1,200 relief payment. Now, it's taken a while, but the government has come around to saying people who get Social Security or disability or veterans benefits will get their relief payments automatically. They don't have to do anything. And many of those folks started getting their direct deposits last week. There is also another feature at irs.gov where non-filers can supply bank account information, and this is that deadline you mentioned. People who get veterans benefits or another kind of payment known as SSI should use that Web feature right away if they have children to let the government know by tomorrow so they don't miss out on that $500 per child payment.

Finally, there are some 14 million adults in the U.S. who don't have bank accounts. They are going to have to wait for a paper check. It's a relatively small fraction of all households where nobody has a bank account - less than 7% - but it's twice as common among Latino households and higher still among African American households. So this is another way the pandemic is kind of shining a spotlight on some longstanding inequities.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. And as we said, these payments were authorized more than a month ago. So how long should people expect it to take if they're going to have to wait for a paper check?

HORSLEY: Good question. Checks are going out to the lowest-paid workers first, and then the Treasury's moving its way up the income ladder. I should say people whose direct deposits bounced back for some reason - maybe they've changed bank accounts, for example - they'll also get a paper check. The Ways and Means Committee has estimated those checks are going out at the rate of about 5 million a week. And at one point, the committee warned it could take as much as 20 weeks for all the checks to go out. The administration says they don't think it'll take anywhere near that long, but the Treasury has not actually set a target date for completing these payments.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEA GIRLS SONG, "DAISY, DAISY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.