Buried in an already disheartening New York Times article about how homeless Americans are struggling to get their stimulus checks is an even more depressing accusation: finance bros are offering to help homeless people get their stimulus payments, not out of the goodness of their heart, but in exchange for a hefty fee.
The anecdote was shared by Steven Todd, who lives at the Mainchance homeless shelter in Manhattan. Todd told The Times’ Andy Newman that “‘educated guys who work in finance’ had approached homeless people and offered to get them their stimulus money — for a commission of several hundred dollars.” “People were happy to get anything,” Todd added. “It wasn’t fair.”
Todd’s account wasn’t further substantiated by Newman and similar accounts weren’t easily identifiable in the news; however, if true, the account is another black eye on a stimulus program that has simultaneously propped up millions and left many Americans behind.
Stimulus Checks Not Easily Accessible For Homeless
More than 156 million households have already received their third stimulus checks. However, there are still many who are waiting not only for their third payment, but also for the first and second. Those who haven’t received their money can be segmented into two categories. First are those who are entitled to payments, but didn’t receive it automatically because they did not need to file tax returns. Many of these individuals either haven’t bothered to apply because they didn’t think they were eligible or have been stymied by bureaucracy. Second are individuals who were explicitly left out by Congressional policy, including spouses and children of undocumented immigrants.
Most individuals experiencing homelessness fall into the former category. Many are eligible for stimulus checks given that anyone with a Social Security number who earns less than $75,000 and cannot be claimed as someone else’s dependent is eligible. However, “some of the people who would benefit most from the money are having the hardest time getting their hands on it,” wrote Newman. “There’s this great intention to lift people out of poverty more and give them support, and all of that’s wonderful,” Beth Hofmeister, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, told The New York Times. “But the way people have to access it doesn’t really fit with how most really low-income people are interacting with the government.”
Many Homeless Eligible For $3,200 In Stimulus Checks
Given eligibility criteria, many homeless individuals should be eligible for all three stimulus checks: $1,200, $600, and $1,400. This is not an insignificant amount of money and yet it highlights a broader problem. While the federal government has deployed trillions to help Americans, aid often fails to reach the poorest Americans.
The IRS and the federal government should do more to ensure that every qualifying American is able to receive their stimulus payments. “People do not need a permanent address or a bank account. They don’t need to have a job,” the IRS writes. “For eligible individuals, the IRS will still issue the payment even if they haven’t filed a tax return in years.” While the IRS has worked with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on a campaign to spotlight banks and credit unions offering no- or low-cost accounts, the barriers for homeless individuals are higher.
The IRS needs to create an information campaign to help eligible individuals file a basic tax return and propagate the message that they don’t need a permanent address to file their return. An individual experiencing homelessness “can put the address of a friend, relative or someone else he or she trusts. The individual may also put the address of a shelter or a drop-in day center, where he or she will be able to collect mail.”
Lisa Rowan of Forbes Advisor provides good advice in an article titled, “How To Get A Stimulus Payment If You’re Homeless.” She says that community-based social service organizations can often help. “Many of these organizations will allow individuals to use their organizational business address to enable the homeless to receive their benefit checks, tax returns or other important documents,” Laura Scherler, senior director of economic mobility and corporate solutions for United Way, told Rowan. Another option is to contact a place of worship about receiving mail there or going to a local post office and applying for mail service.
Stimulus payments have helped millions of Americans struggling due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It is incumbent on the government to ensure that as many eligible individuals have the knowledge and the opportunity to receive their stimulus checks. Moreover, no one should prey on those experiencing homelessness by taking a portion of their payment in return for helping them receive a stimulus check.