July 23, 2020
According to a report from the House Ways and Means Committee, 30-35 million eligible people hadn’t received their stimulus money as of June 5.
Attorney Barbara Heggie, Coordinator for the NH Pro Bono System’s Low-Income Taxpayer Project, said that while the current number in New Hampshire is unknown, she has received around 225 calls concerning stimulus payments since the CARES Act was enacted in late March.
Heggie is currently seeking volunteer attorneys to help the most vulnerable who are still waiting for their checks. Cases, she said, typically take about 2-3 hours over the course of a month and no tax experience is necessary. Her plan is to have a mini training session for whoever signs up.
“At the same time I’m trying to recruit volunteers for those cases where you have to call the IRS, I’m also in the middle of an outreach campaign with as many social service providers as I possibly can and getting help from the NH Department of Health and Human Services to spread the word to people who haven’t gotten it that they need to come forward and let the IRS know they’re eligible for stimulus money.”
Stimulus payments under the CARES Act are issued by the IRS, and because the taxpayer clinic’s mission is to assist low income Granite State residents facing controversies with the IRS, the clinic was a “natural place” for individuals to call for problems with stimulus payments.
“Some people are experiencing really desperate times, and for them, $1,200 can mean the difference between keeping their home and having to look for a homeless shelter,” Heggie said. “There are so many different ways the $1,200 can save someone from destitution, whether it’s a car repair or paying their food bills or buying medicine.”
One of her recent callers, according to Heggie, was homeless.
“I have an application and a power of attorney authorization from one on my desk right now. He was referred to me by the Concord Homeless Resource Center,” Heggie said.
The stimulus checks – $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per married couple, as well as $500 per dependent child under 17 — were authorized by Congress with the CARES Act. Those still waiting for checks include some 2018 and 2019 tax filers, federal benefits recipients, and non-filers.
“Most calls I’ve handled with one or two phone consultations, but about 15-20 callers have needed help completing a non-filer return. Six or seven more have required a call to the IRS or other federal agency,” Heggie said. “That latter group is what I’m expecting to see grow, and it’s those cases I’d like to refer.”
Heggie, who has worked on the Low-Income Taxpayer Project representing clients facing a variety of tax-related problems including deficiency notices, levies and liens, audits, innocent spouse relief, and earned income credit problems, said there are several reasons people are still waiting.
One of those reasons is that the payments were mistaken as junk mail.
“I’m giving instructions on how to get replacement payments, but first I may need to call the IRS to figure out what happened,” Heggie said. “Although there is a hotline the IRS established for information about these payments, I’d call it more of a ‘lukewarm’ line. Often, even after several tries, callers can’t reach a live human or the IRS representative can’t delve into the caller’s individual account. It could be that representatives aren’t transferring people to someone who can look at an individual’s account. But they’re supposed to offer to transfer your call if you have an obvious need.”
Other reasons for delayed checks include address changes, identity theft, a lack of access or proficiency using computers, or a language barrier.
“I’ve had some non-English speakers calling for interpretation help,” Heggie said. “We can use Language Line to communicate, if necessary, and if they become a client then I can make a call to the IRS to try to resolve the problem.”
The Low-Income Taxpayer Project is part of the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Pro Bono Referral Program. If you have questions or need assistance, please call Barbara G. Heggie, Esq., Low-Income Taxpayer Project Coordinator, at (603) 715-3215.