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30 million Social Security recipients still waiting for their stimulus check, lawmakers say

Powell and Yellen address economic recovery
Powell and Yellen address economic recovery while testifying in front of House panel 04:37

About 30 million Social Security recipients are still waiting for their stimulus checks, according to members of the House Ways & Means Committee. So far, the IRS has distributed about 127 million payments since the $1,400 checks were signed into law on March 11. But millions of retired Americans who don't earn enough to file federal income tax returns are in limbo, waiting for their money to arrive.

The Ways & Means Committee pointed the finger at the Social Security Administration (SSA), claiming in a Wednesday letter sent to Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul that the IRS had asked the SSA to begin sending it key payment information two weeks before President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan. 

On Thursday, the Ways & Means Committee said the SSA provided the payment data to the IRS on Thursday morning. 

"The Social Security Administration has notified us that at 8:48 this morning, the agency has transmitted the necessary payment files to the IRS that have been blocking the sending of stimulus payments to nearly 30,000,000 Americans," Representatives Richard Neal, John Larson, Bill Pascrell and Danny Davis said in a statement. "We are gratified that the SSA leadership finally recognized the urgency of the moment and acted swiftly on our ultimatum."

Now, they added, the "IRS must now take quick action to deliver."

The IRS didn't immediately return a request for comment about the length of time it might take for Social Security recipients to receive their checks. But based on previous payment schedules for the stimulus checks, the wait could be as short as a few days to several weeks.

The movement in getting checks to seniors, disabled people and other Social Security beneficiaries comes after the lawmakers prodded the Social Security Administration to take action in a Wednesday letter. They had demanded that the SSA provide the payment information by March 25.

Typically, single people over 65 who earn less than about $14,000 a year aren't required to file a tax return, while that threshold stands at $24,800 for married couples.

The Social Security Administration said in a Thursday statement that it had been hamstrung in providing the data to the IRS. 

"The Social Security Act does not allow the agency to use our administrative appropriation to conduct work on any non-mission provision or program," SSA Commissioner Saul said int he statement. "Accordingly, we were not authorized to substantively engage Treasury or IRS prior to the [American Rescue Plan's] passage."

Saul added that the SSA "received no direct appropriation" from American Rescue Plan for the work, and had to form a "reimbursable agreement with IRS" to move forward. "

He said, "Social Security employees have literally worked day and night with IRS staff to ensure that the electronic files of Social Security and SSI recipients are complete, accurate, and ready to be used to issue payments," and added that insinuations to the contrary are "unacceptable."

"Hit a button"

Some Social Security recipients told CBS MoneyWatch they were puzzled by the delay for a number of reasons. First, many receive their benefits through direct deposit, which means their payment information should be available to the agencies distributing the money. Secondly, some said they received their second stimulus check — the $600 per-person payments that were authorized on December 27 — within days. 

"Almost everybody I know who isn't on federal benefit programs has been paid," said Mark Stevens, 65, who told CBS MoneyWatch he received his second stimulus check in about two days but is still waiting for his third stimulus check. 

Stevens, a retiree in Pensacola, Florida, said he receives his Social Security benefits through direct deposit. He added, "So what I don't understand is they have our banking information — why didn't they hit a button and have all that money go out?"

"Record time"

IRS officials have touted the agency's delivery of the third round of stimulus checks as reaching eligible Americans in "record time." And that's been the case for millions of eligible adults and dependents, although the latest rollout hasn't been without its hitches. 

For starters, the IRS said it would begin sending payments as soon as two days after Mr. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan. But the official payment date wasn't set until March 17 — almost a week after the plan was signed into law. Some customers of banks such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase blamed their banks for the delay, although the banks said they didn't actually have the money to distribute any earlier than March 17.

Some people have also complained about the IRS' "Get My Payment" website, which the tax agency reopened after Mr. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan. The "Get My Payment" site is geared to provide information to people on when and where they will receive their checks, such as the payment date and whether the check will be issued via direct deposit. 

But some of the messages on the site are unclear, with people pointing out to CBS MoneyWatch that the "Payment Status Not Available" message is especially confusing, as it can mean either that the IRS hasn't processed your payment yet — or that you aren't eligible. The use of one phrase to signify two diametrically opposed outcomes can be particularly befuddling to people eager to find out when or if they'll receive a check.

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