Hassan hears about racial disparity in COVID-19 cases

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., hosted an online discussion Monday with public health experts and community leaders about why minority residents have proportionally gotten COVID-19 in much higher numbers than white residents.

The Treasury Department reversed itself Wednesday and ruled Social Security recipients will automatically receive $1,200 checks from the COVID-19 CARES Act without having to file tax returns.

The late about-face came just hours after Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wrote a strongly worded letter reminding officials of language in the law that specifically guaranteed the checks, without conditions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the new policy.

“We want to ensure that our senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and low-income Americans receive Economic Impact Payments quickly and without undue burden,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return need to take no action and will receive their payment directly to their bank account.”

That contradicted information from the Internal Revenue Service, which on Monday advised seniors and those on disability that they would have to file tax returns to receive checks.

Hassan said many low-income seniors do not make enough to file returns.

“It is unfortunate that the IRS created confusion with its guidance this week, but we are very pleased that the Treasury Department reversed course and will now get this cash to Social Security beneficiaries automatically as Congress intended,” Hassan said in a joint statement with Brown.

Within a short period of time Wednesday, 39 other Democratic senators signed onto the Hassan-Brown letter, including New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet.

“Seniors and individuals who experience disabilities are especially vulnerable as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, and they cannot afford to miss out on the direct cash assistance included in the CARES Act,” Hassan and Brown wrote.

“That’s why in drafting the law, Congress made it explicitly clear that Social Security beneficiaries do not need to take any additional action in order to receive their payments.”

GOP senator joined in call

The Treasury Department will get most of the information it needs to distribute stimulus money from taxpayers’ 2019 tax returns, or their 2018 returns if they haven’t filed last year’s yet.

But the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law last week, directs the IRS to get information from the Social Security Administration so it can process checks for seniors who don’t file tax returns.

The uproar was bipartisan.

“Despite language Congress passed in #COVID0-19 relief bill to ensure Social Security beneficiaries would NOT have to file taxes to receive direct relief, IRS issued guidance saying seniors DO have to file taxes. That’s ridiculous. IRS should follow the law that Congress passed,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tweeted on Wednesday.

Treasury officials have said those who filed tax returns online will receive their stimulus checks faster than those who filed through the mail.

That’s because the e-filers gave the IRS their bank routing numbers, making it possible for the checks to be automatically deposited in individual bank accounts.

Social Security recipients whose monthly benefits are direct-deposited have given the IRS the same information.

Those who file tax returns by mail will have stimulus checks mailed to their homes.

The Washington Post reported that e-filers will receive their payments starting April 9. Paper checks will be mailed starting April 24, but the last of the checks may not reach their recipients until September, the Post reported.