Congress passed a landmark pandemic relief package over five months ago to get $1,200 stimulus checks into the pockets of struggling families during the pandemic.
Stimulus payments are especially critical in Florida, where our Unemployment Insurance (UI) program has failed miserably in assisting workers who have lost jobs or income due to the pandemic. Since COVID-19, nearly 1 out of every 3 applicants for Reemployment Assistance (RA) have been denied or are still waiting on an eligibility determination. For them, stimulus payments offer the only hope to stay afloat until the labor market improves. Even those who were fortunate enough to be approved for RA have been hit hard by the loss of the federal $600-a-week supplement to unemployment benefits in July. Without a stimulus check, millions of out-of-work Floridians are left to fend for themselves for jobs in a labor market that keeps getting worse, and with few options for how to pay the bills.
Although most families have, or will, receive their stimulus checks automatically, people who are not required to file taxes will not get a check unless they complete paperwork with the IRS. This includes roughly 1 million persons in Florida.
The deadline to claim checks is October 15.
Ironically, the 1 million Floridians at risk of missing out on their stimulus checks are the people who would benefit the most from extra money to help pay basic expenses, such as people who are experiencing homelessness, participants in safety net programs, families who are paid low wages, and workers who have been out of a job for an extended period. Since families left with nothing are desperate for money to keep them afloat during the pandemic, most unclaimed checks likely belong to persons who do not know they are required to fill out a form to claim their check-- or even that they are eligible.
Even after people learn about their eligibility for a stimulus check, barriers make it hard for some to claim their payment. To get a stimulus check, Floridians must provide five pieces of information (full name, mailing address, email address, date of birth, and Social Security number) through either a 2019 tax return or a simplified online form for persons who are not required to file taxes. In addition to not having an email address, access to a computer, or a mailing address, many do not have a bank account, which can delay payment delivery. Some may need help to complete paperwork, create an email address, open a bank account, or otherwise navigate the challenges they face to claim their checks.
Governor DeSantis and other state officials can, and should, play a central role in reaching people who may not know about the stimulus check or how to claim it. In Florida, three in four people at risk of missing out on their checks are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid. Because Florida administers these programs, the state is well positioned to notify enrolled families about stimulus payments and how to claim them.
After all, Florida as a whole benefits from ensuring that families receive their payment: if stimulus checks remain unclaimed, the state stands to lose almost $1 billion that would otherwise be spent locally to stimulate Florida’s floundering economy.
But it is not just the responsibility of state officials to reach out to families who may miss out on stimulus check. Organizations that serve persons with low-income should also spread the word and assist families in claiming their checks through social media, listservs, press releases and flyers.
Florida Policy Institute believes it is important that everyone receives their payments as a step toward a just, equitable recovery. With greater health risks and a record number of lay-offs due to COVID-19, paying bills is tougher than ever. In addition, not only do these payments help provide stability to get Floridians through tough times, stimulus checks also give our state a boost in ongoing recovery.
People have until Oct. 15 to claim their payment, which means now is the time to get the word out. By working together, we can help people claim the money they are owed and make sure Florida gets the federal stimulus that it is due.