Wyoming's vulnerable face battle for subsidy; low-income residents need internet, bank to get aid payment
April 9, 2020
CHEYENNE – Last month, Congress passed a historic $2 trillion stimulus package that grants all single Americans (whose annual income is $75,000 or less) a one-time, non-taxed payment of $1,200. Married couples in the same position will receive $2,400, and parents will be given $500 for each child under the age of 17.
Last Thursday, the IRS started depositing these Economic Impact Payments into the bank accounts of Americans who opted to get their federal tax refund directly deposited this year or last.
However, some Wyomingites are at risk of falling through the cracks.
“If you filed your taxes, you know you’re automatically on their radar. But a lot of our folks didn’t file because they didn’t have enough income or had no income,” said COMEA House & Resource Center Executive Director Robin Bocanegra.
Non-filers such as these clients of the local homeless shelter are still eligible for the Economic Impact Payment, but in order to get it, the IRS is requiring them to fill out an application on its website. According to the site, those eligible to use the form are individuals who did not file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return because their gross income was under $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples, and this includes people who had no income) or those not required to file for other reasons.
Those who receive Social Security retirement, disability (SSDI) or Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits are not required to fill out the form and will automatically receive the $1,200.
But what about those who can’t access the form? Wenlin Liu, chief economist for the state’s Economic Analysis Division, said about 14%, or 33,000 Wyoming homes, do not have any type of internet connection. This issue is particularly prevalent in some small, rural counties, such as Platte, Johnson and Niobrara, he added, where about 25% of homes have no internet connection.
With public libraries and other gathering spaces with computer labs and Wi-Fi access closed, many of Wyoming’s most vulnerable residents are at risk of not receiving their $1,200 payment – unless they’re willing to trust their personal information with others.
“If I needed the check immediately, for example, for paying rent, or for grocery food, I wouldn’t mind giving my Social Security number, date of birth, driver’s license and address to my friend or neighbor and asking them to input the information into the IRS website through their computer or cellphone,” Liu said. “If you do not have to use the money immediately, you may wait for a while until the public library is open.”
In Cheyenne, the Laramie County Library is suggesting that residents in need of internet access sit in the library parking lot to pick up the building’s Wi-Fi. Residents also can sit in the Cheyenne Depot Plaza and pick up a free public Wi-Fi signal.
But in order to use Wi-Fi, you need a device with internet capabilities, and those in lower income brackets are less likely to own such devices. When reached for comment at the IRS phone number listed online, the recording stated the call center is closed.
Another group of people who will have a hard time receiving their Economic Impact Payment is those without a bank account. According to a report conducted by the Institute for Southern Studies, 4.8% of Wyoming households are unbanked, which means they will receive their stimulus plan payment in the form of a physical check in the mail. And the U.S. Treasury Department said some of those may not reach them for months.
Mindy Meuli, program director of the Cent$ible Nutrition Program in the University of Wyoming Extension, said in an April 9 news release that many Wyomingites cash checks at check cashing companies and get loans through credit cards or payday lenders, most of which are currently closed for in-person business.
“If they don’t have a financial institution they use, they will have difficulty receiving the payment, or it will be delayed,” she said. “They’ll need to set up an account when most banks are closed to human contact. And a permanent address with ID is needed, which may not be possible for everyone.”
Finally, there’s the question of what to do with the money for those who eventually receive it.
At COMEA, Bocanegra said the coming weeks will require case managers to sit down with residents and develop a plan so that money is spent – or saved – wisely.
“For a lot of our residents, $1,200 is like winning the lottery,” she said. “Our hope is they don’t see it as so much money that they’re foolish with it. We want to guide them to use it in a way to help them get back on their feet ... I know the folks in our long-term program are saying that money is going right into their savings account. They understand the benefit of putting that away.”
Coronavirus relief funds will be available through all of 2020. The filing deadline for personal income tax is now July 15. Details on how to apply for the payments as a non-filer can be found at http://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.