The reason why is that the government intends to track Americans down and deliver their corona-bonus using the tax information they submitted in 2018 or 2019. But a fairly large number of households don’t file returns to the IRS each year because their income is so small that they are not required to. As a result, they don’t have a current bank account or home address on file with the agency. If one of these non-filers happens to receive old age or disability benefits from Social Security, the government will send them their relief checks based on that info. But otherwise? They might be out of luck. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that some 7.5 million households, with 9 million adults and 4 million children, might not be able to get their money promptly, or perhaps at all.
As you might expect, the people who stand to miss out on help are the ones who could probably use it most. Non-filers generally earn less than the standard deduction, which is about $12,200 for an individual and $24,400 for a married couple. As Chuck Marr, senior director of tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, put it to me: “If you make 10,000 bucks a year, $1,200 is a lot of money.”
A straightforward way to fix this situation would be to convince more people to file their taxes for 2019. And, in fact, the rescue bill does instruct the Treasury secretary to conduct a public awareness campaign about the rebates. But getting people to claim their cash might be easier said than done.