It would appear that almost all Americans are going to get a check from the government for $1,200. People get less if they earn over a predetermined limit, people get $500 per qualifying child … look, there are stipulations!
I’d point you to the source so you could investigate all the details firsthand but apparently Congress’ website is down.¹ I’m positive that’s not as ominous as it sounds.²
That’s merely an aside, however. The key idea here is that people essentially have to meet a small number of criteria in order to qualify for and receive a check in the mail or, I guess I’m hearing they’re going to try direct deposit if they have your account on file from your tax returns. I certainly cannot see that going wrong.³
The criteria are, in a nutshell:
- You can’t be too rich.
- You’d do well to file your taxes for either 2019 or 2018 so that they know where to send that money.
- You’re going to have to have somewhere for them to send the paper check or deposit the funds.
There’s sort of a fourth criteria as well, which is that you’ll need to have a bank account — obvious in the case of having it direct-deposited through ACH, but less obvious if you’re expecting a paper check. The reason is that if you don’t have a bank account nobody will cash a check for you unless you give them money.
Fortunately we’ve all got bank accounts so it’s fine.
… Wait, no; hold on a second. That’s not true at all!
The technical term for not having a bank account is, cleverly, “unbanked”, and it turns out that something like 6.5% of people are unbanked. At least, in 2017 that was the figure. The story I’ve linked to makes the case that that’s the lowest it’s ever been, which is good, and if they were right then it should be lower today in 2020, but that’s still a decent chunk of people who are disadvantaged.
Not having a bank account isn’t necessarily the end of the world in this scenario though. People can sign their checks over to their friends who do, or they can go to check cashing businesses who I’m sure don’t price gouge and prey on people who can’t get a bank account for one reason or another. So long as people have somewhere for Mr. Mnuchin to send their paper checks, they’ll get the money they’ve been promised.
Well, alright. So there is that one other consideration — and it’s a bit of a doozy.
Yeah so, if you don’t have a bank account you have to have a permanent residence, or perhaps a PO box, where you can have your check mailed. It just stands to reason that if the government doesn’t know where to find you then, no matter how much they’re aching to give you this money, they just won’t be able to.
That’s not really a problem for me, and I would guess (and sincerely hope!) it isn’t a problem for you either, cherished reader.
Because if it is a problem, then you’re probably experiencing homelessness right now, and that’s … I don’t want to assign a value judgement to it but usually it’s a sign that things aren’t working out so well for someone. It means that all their lifelines are gone, or any of an infinite number of unique and complex causes, but it almost always means that things are or are very rapidly about to become rough for a person.
Having worked at a credit union in NW Portland, just outside of Chinatown, I saw that being homeless and being unbanked go hand-in-hand. One doesn’t guarantee the other, but there are synergies between the two states of being.
Which brings us to the thing that’s been gnawing on my mind since this morning: where are they going to send the checks?
What got me thinking about the topic of this article — the homeless and the unbanked in relation to their stimulus checks — was that I spent this morning filling out my taxes for 2019.
I did this because I’ve been more or less unemployed for a couple years now and as a result I’ve not brought in enough money to need to file a tax return. Naturally when I heard I should be getting a check from a stimulus package I was overwhelmed with excitement. I could use the money!
I was a little confused as to how they were going to get me the check though because I’ve moved several times since the last time I filed my taxes. After some quick digging I saw that they recommended filing for this year anyways because then you can have your debit account linked with the IRS and they’ll (theoretically) deposit it (at some point) directly.
Also since I’d moved several times since the last time I filed, I realized that even if I was willing to wait a while longer for a paper check to arrive, the IRS probably didn’t have my current address. So whatever, I had to file my taxes, big deal. It’s not like I’m doing anything in lockdown anyways.
But I have a really cynical, paranoid mind so I started to wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t filed. Where would the check have gone? Which old residence? Would any of them send it back and, if so, what would happen next?
These checks aren’t going to arrive for a while. Even the direct deposit pipedream is going to take several more weeks, at least. I now I’m hurting for the money right now and there are many, many people who are in much more dire situations than I am. How awful would it be if the check you needed ended up taking you until next tax season to finally track down and have re-issued so that you can finally pay your landlord? What if your landlord kicked you out before then?
And then it just sort of came to me: what about people who don’t have homes?
What about people who don’t have a PO box? What about people who don’t have a checking account?
These would be people who are already in the most dire of situations, who need this money — any money! any help! — more than anyone.
Sardonically, they’re also exactly the people who this system is designed to exclude. Not intentionally, I don’t believe that — I don’t think they devised this method of distributing the money specifically to exclude the homeless. I mean systemically in America our society is configured so that once you fail to have a few of the most basic things you’re no longer able to participate, and nobody really notices.
Two of those most basic things are a home and a bank account. If you don’t have those then you’re going to need to rely on someone paying you in cash and there is simply no way these stimulus checks are going to be distributed in paper bills, no matter how nicely anyone asks.
So yeah; this sucks, man.
There are a ton of people out there, at least here in Portland, who are already at extreme risk from poverty and homelessness and lack of medical care. Now we throw in a global pandemic?
Our neighbors experiencing homelessness always deserve our compassion and, when we can be bothered to spare it, our assistance. It’s just that it’s difficult and none of us think we can manage to foot the bill.
Well, good news! The government will give them $1,200 free and clear. Think of the enormous amount of good that can do for their lives! Everyone always says nobody’s just going to hand you a check but now it’s happening.
Except I’m not sure how they’re actually going to get their free money and that is a worrying thought.
You’ll notice that the article just seems to drop off there and that’s intentional. I don’t know where to go with it. It’s been nothing more than a series of observations that I wanted to share immediately because this needs to get out there into everyone’s awareness.
I don’t know what the solution is or how we can help. I would like to hear from readers who have thoughts, however. I would like to hear from politicians and/or civil servants and/or community activists and/or non-religious organizations who work with the homeless.
Right now all I can do is try to make people aware of this problem. I’m not experienced in community organization; I’m not sure what the procedures are to inform the IRS of where to send your check if you don’t file taxes; I’m not sure whether you can get the money without a permanent address; I’m not sure whether I can loan my address to people or whether that would be advisable.
I’m also not sure where to turn for that information. Or, maybe it’s better to say I have trouble comprehending it.
I will be reaching out to some local organizations and people I can think of tomorrow to see if they have any ideas.
If you have any ideas, or if you’re in a position to be able to do something about this, please get in touch. I can be reached by email at dacodanelson [at] gmail and you know how to type an email address, don’t you? (I can’t just type it out because bots will snag it and I’ll get even more spam than I do now.)
Seriously, don’t be shy: no suggestion is too small.
We’re all in it together, comrades.
¹ If you’re wondering, that screenshot is (mostly) from the terrific and terribly handy website downforeveryoneorjustme.com which is where you can go if you’re wondering if it’s the website, or you, that’s having trouble establishing a connection. They also have a shortlink these days, downfor.io, but it’s just not as catchy.
² More than likely it’s that all two of the people who run that website for the government are self-quarantining.
³ Look, the IRS is a tremendously efficient operation and as much as we all like to joke that the government is incompetent at running anything, they sure do manage to make sure they get their money. Still though, when you’re promising people you’ll put money in their bank accounts through the magic of the internet and you want to inspire the public’s confidence, it helps if all three branches of government’s websites are up and running.