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Stimulus checks: 10 million people are still eligible for payments — but have 1 month to claim them

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Three rounds of stimulus checks during the pandemic helped millions of Americans weather the crisis, but there may still be as many as 10 million people who haven't claimed their money, according to a new government report. 

About 165 million Americans were eligible for the stimulus checks, which totaled $931 billion in direct payments, the Government Accountability Office said in a Tuesday report. The IRS relied on tax returns to determine eligibility and send payments to individuals and families, relying on bank account information or home addresses for mailing the checks. 

But millions of Americans, such as some very low-income adults and some seniors who only receive Social Security benefits, aren't required to file taxes. That made them difficult for the IRS to reach when it was distributing stimulus checks, and so they may have missed out on receiving all of their payments, the GAO said. 

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"Throughout the pandemic, IRS and Treasury struggled to get COVID-relief payments into the hands of some people—especially those with lower-incomes, limited internet access, or experiencing homelessness," the GAO said in the report.

On Thursday, the IRS said it will send letters to more than 9 million families who are potentially eligible for benefits including stimulus payments or Child Tax Credits but didn't claim them by filing a 2021 tax return. It noted that it will keep its Free File program open through November 17. 

Free File allows people with incomes of $73,000 or less to file a return online for free through third-party tax preparers such as TaxAct or 1040Now.

There's still time to claim

There is some good news: There's still time for people who missed out on their stimulus checks to claim them, the report noted.

"Individuals with little or no income, and therefore not required to pay taxes, have until November 15 to complete a simplified tax return to get their payments," the GAO said. 

There's also still time for people to claim the expanded Child Tax Credit, which was provided last year to eligible families. That credit provided as much as $3,600 to families with children under 17, but parents who didn't receive the payments last year have only until November 15 to claim them. 

To claim a missing stimulus payment, people should go to the IRS website for "Economic Impact Payments," the official name for the program, and follow the instructions there. You'll have to file a simplified tax return to receive the money. 

Parents who still have missing Child Tax Credits from 2021 can go to the website to claim them. 

However, people who are required to file taxes due to their income and who missed the April 15 tax filing deadline have until October 17 to claim the payments, the GAO said. October 17 is the deadline for filing 2021 tax returns if you requested an extension from the IRS

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