By Madeline Youngren, 2020 Housing Intern
Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) or “stimulus checks” have been a lifeline for many people with low incomes who have received them. Unfortunately, many people experiencing homelessness may miss out on the payment because they need to file an online form with the IRS to get it.
Outreach and direct support to people experiencing homelessness is imperative to help ensure those most marginalized receive these payments. This guide can help you understand the barriers to applying for the payment and what you can do to help.
Understanding Homelessness in America & COVID-19
On any given night prior to the pandemic, over 500,000 people were experiencing homelessness. Black, Latino, and Native American people are disproportionately represented. Our nation’s long history of racist and discriminatory housing policies, practices, and programs have led to the overrepresentation of people of color in the homeless system.
Risks of eviction and homelessness are rising due to the pandemic as housing hardships show no sign of easing. In early July, 1 in 5 adults (13.8 million) renting homes reported that they were behind on rent with Black and Latino renters reporting the greatest difficulty paying. People with low incomes have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, as the greatest proportion of consequential job losses have occurred in industries that pay low average wages.
Unfortunately, those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis face the biggest barriers to accessing their payments. Outreach is critical to help ensure everyone gets the help they need.
Building Outreach Capacity through Partnerships and Other Resources
Assess your organization’s outreach capacity and what type of roles you can fill. Does your organization have the capacity to assist, refer, or notify individuals who are seeking help with the payments?
Once you know your capacity, reach out to other local organizations to see what outreach is already happening and how you can plug in. Start by contacting your local United Way.
On-the-ground support is the most impactful at this time. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites which provide free, quality tax services across the country are typically a resource for in-person tax support. Due to COVID-19, most VITA sites shut down or transitioned to remote support.
If you cannot provide on-the-ground support, share other available resources. United Way’s 211 Economic Impact Payment Helpline (1-844-322-3639) provides over-the-phone assistance. Specialized agents help callers confirm their eligibility, learn how to claim their EIP, fill out the IRS Non-Filer form, and answer specific EIP questions. Callers are also screened for tax credit eligibility and referred to free tax services as needed.
Code for America’s Get Your Refund Service is a free, mobile-friendly platform that uses VITA volunteers to help people get their stimulus check and file a tax return if needed.
Here are five challenges people experiencing homelessness face to getting their stimulus payments and suggestions to help address them.
1. Computer or internet access
The IRS Non-filer form is not mobile-friendly and is best completed from a computer. Many public libraries that provide internet and computer access remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Use a cell phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot to provide in-person computer access to complete the IRS Non-filer form. In Cleveland, Ohio, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and West Side Catholic Center organize volunteers with internet-accessible devices to perform outreach to homeless communities. Advocates at Be a Blessing Birmingham partner with Woke Vote to assist people using iPads and laptops.
TIP: Create a paper form for people to complete while waiting for help with the required information for the IRS Non-filer form. The form can be destroyed later and will allow you to help people get their payments even if Wi-Fi is lost at an event.
2. Email address
An email is required to sign up for the stimulus payment. The IRS will send an email to confirm the Non-filer form is filed successfully (or the steps needed to do so). Help people establish an email address. Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, and Outlook are free options, however you must verify a phone number. You can also use Mail.com or create a temporary email using 10minutemail.com or guerrillamail.com.
TIP: It takes up to 48 hours for the IRS to send an email confirmation for the Non-filer form. You can advise people without internet access to return in a week to check on the status of the payment. Write down log-in credentials for both accounts (email and the IRS Non-filer form) as a record for your client to take and use if they get internet access. Consider arranging for people to call to check the status of the form since it may be easier for someone to find a phone to use.
3. Permanent address
People experiencing homelessness often lack a consistent address. Partner with an organization that offers their mailing address to receive the payment. You can also use a P.O. box.
Be transparent with organizations and individuals about the mail receipt arrangements. Some people may want to use the address for other mail. West Side Catholic Center and Be a Blessing Birmingham, used their addresses to help people experiencing homelessness receive their payments. Richard Campillo – who started a single-person outreach operation in Broward County, Florida – partnered with HOPE South Florida to receive stimulus payments for people experiencing homelessness.
TIP: Contact your IRS Territory Manager to alert them about an address that will receive multiple stimulus payments. This will help prevent the IRS flagging an organization for potential fraud which could further delay the delivery of payments.
4. Bank account
Direct deposit is the fastest and safest way to get stimulus payments. There are a few ways to help people without bank accounts get payments through direct deposit.
Bank On, a national project of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, helps connect unbanked people to bank accounts. Partner with local credit unions and banks to help connect people to accounts as you help them with their stimulus payments. In Illinois, Heartland Alliance formed a partnership with other nonprofits to launch getpaymentil.org, a website designed to help people access their payments and link unbanked people to bank accounts. Seattle Credit Union offers new accounts online so people experiencing homelessness can use direct deposit to get their payments.
Alternatively, you can help people use prepaid debit cards or a payment app. For debit cards, you may need to contact the company directly to find the account and routing numbers needed for direct deposit. Payment apps like CashApp, Venmo, or PayPal have their own unique routing numbers that can be used with the IRS’ Non-Filers Tool.
TIP: Use Bank On’s list of certified checking accounts to help open an account for people online.
5. Social Security Number (SSN)
Unfortunately, an SSN is required to receive a stimulus payment. The only exception is California, where state funding extends stimulus payments to people without an SSN. Become familiar with basic stimulus eligibility and considerations for people without SSNs.
Reaching the Homeless Population in Your Community
Understand where the homeless population is in your area. Many homeless individuals have moved to hotels and motels due to COVID-19. Contact organizations like the Salvation Army, local homeless shelters, or churches and faith-based organizations to identify how best to reach people. Also reach out to organizations that distribute meals or provide hygiene supplies.
Find organizations that will allow you to use their space for in-person outreach with homeless individuals. Richard Campillo’s single-person operation in Broward County, used the address and work space of a non-profit combating homelessness, HOPE South Florida. Catholic Charities DC partnered with local organizations that deliver food to people experiencing homelessness to share payment information.
Angel Resource Connection (ARC) based in the Seattle area has signed up hundreds of homeless people to receive stimulus payments. ARC provides food, clothing and housing assistance to the unsheltered. ARC volunteers use laptops to meet people experiencing homelessness at hotels where they are staying to help them sign up for stimulus payments.
Mindfulness of COVID-19: When performing in-person outreach, ensure that set up allows for adequate distancing. Make sure to wear masks and bring masks for those who don’t have them.
Maintain an equitable framework: People of color are disproportionately impacted by both homelessness and COVID-19. Consider how you can apply a race equity lens and center resource allocation decisions to address inequity by prioritizing the communities and neighborhoods that need it the most. Address language barriers to provide broad access.
Continuity: Maintain contact with the people you assist to ensure they receive their payment. Tell clients to return on a set date to check the status of their form and payment or provide clear instructions for them to do so on their own. Be prepared to troubleshoot. Call the IRS EIP Hotline (1-800-919-9835) to help people navigate issues in submitting their form or getting their payment.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Helping Consumers Claim their EIP: A Guide for Intermediary Organizations
National Low Income Housing Coalition: Guidance for Helping People Experiencing Homelessness Access their Economic Impact Payments
Nevada Homeless Alliance: TOOLKIT: HOW TO GET YOUR STIMULUS CHECK
Get it Back Campaign: Outreach Strategies to Reach Workers Who Are Homeless
Get it Back Campaign: Stimulus Payments Outreach Training