More than 156 million households around the country have already received their third stimulus checks. But people experiencing homelessness may be missing out on money they’re eligible to receive because the IRS doesn’t have enough information about them.
And not only could many unhoused people be missing out on the $1,400 third stimulus payment: They may not have received the first or second stimulus payments either.
The delayed tax deadline of May 17 means you have a few more weeks to file the tax records required to have a third stimulus payment processed this spring. Here’s how an unhoused person can get the stimulus money that they’re entitled to.
Yes, Homeless People Are Eligible for Stimulus Checks
If you’re unhoused right now, you’re eligible to receive stimulus money intended to prop up the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. You don’t have to be working, and getting this money won’t make you ineligible to get other aid.
If you owe money to the federal government, like old taxes you didn’t pay, your stimulus payment can’t be garnished to cover those debts. (If you owe money to a private debt collector, they could try to take your stimulus money.)
The reason you haven’t received stimulus money is most likely because the IRS doesn’t have enough information about you to determine you’re eligible and send you a payment. If you don’t file taxes each year or receive government benefits like Social Security, there may be no recent proof of your income or location in IRS systems. The IRS referenced people’s tax returns from 2018, 2019 or 2020 to determine eligibility; the most recent round only checks against 2019 or 2020 tax returns or benefit records. .
Last fall, the IRS estimated that as many as 9 million people who were eligible for a stimulus payment hadn’t received one, many of them unhoused.
However, there is a hurdle if you want to claim your stimulus payment: You’ll need to file a 2020 tax return.
By filing a 2020 tax return, an unhoused person may be able to also access other funds beyond their stimulus payment, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Smith says.
Filing a tax return can also protect you from tax fraud, says Mark Steber, chief tax information officer at Jackson Hewitt. If someone steals your identity—by obtaining your Social Security number or other personal details—they could try to file a tax return in your name. That person could steal the refund you might be owed.
How to File a Tax Return if You’re Homeless Right Now
Right now, the only way to get your 2021 stimulus money (up to $1,400) is to file a 2020 federal income tax return. When your return is processed, your information will be reviewed by the IRS for eligibility for a stimulus payment.
When you file that tax return, you will also be able to claim any previous stimulus checks you haven’t received from the first two rounds of payment (up to $1,200 and $600, respectively). These previous payments are actually a refundable tax credit, but as long as you don’t owe taxes on your 2020 return, you’ll get a tax refund that includes any stimulus payments you’re owed from last year.
This means that an unhoused person who doesn’t owe taxes, has income below the specified limits and hasn’t claimed any stimulus payments could be entitled to receive up to $3,200.
Last year, the IRS offered a Non-Filers tool to capture information and process stimulus payments for people who didn’t normally file an annual tax return. That tool, which essentially created a basic tax return, was discontinued in November 2020.
What to do about ID and Mail Delivery
Two obstacles you could face if you’re homeless right now and trying to get your stimulus payment: You need proof of identity and a fixed address to file a tax return. You may also need reliable internet access.
Social services organizations in your community may be able to solve those dilemmas.
“One of the services that homeless outreach organizations provide is [to] help people acquire proper documentation,” says Laura Scherler, senior director of economic mobility and corporate solutions for United Way. “Many of these organizations will allow individuals to use their organizational business address to enable the homeless to receive their benefit checks, tax returns or other important documents.”
If you’re not sure which organizations can help in your area, United Way offers a stimulus payment hotline to help people find resources. The hotline is available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET at 844-322-3639. Scherler said the hotline received almost 300,000 calls in 2020.
A place of worship could offer another potential option for receiving mail. And people experiencing homelessness can also apply for mail service at their local post office. The Postmaster has to approve your application if you don’t have a fixed address, and you must meet one of the following requirements for your application to be considered:
- You have identification of some kind, like a driver’s license or social services ID card
- The Post Office staff knows you (because you routinely visit to send mail or do other business)
- You have a “verifiable point of contact” like a shelter, place of worship or social services office.
If you get approved, a post office box usually costs between $13 and $42 for a three-month period (the shortest rental window). You might instead get approved for General Delivery meaning you pick up your mail at the post office counter. It’s free, but be aware that mail is held for a maximum of 30 days.
File a Tax Return Online
You can submit your tax return for free online by using the IRS Free File program. The IRS doesn’t operate the preparation and filing system; rather, you choose a participating company and complete your tax return on their website. If you don’t have any income, there are seven options that don’t require a minimum income.
You can file on a smartphone. The program will walk you through the steps you need to complete. You need an email address to submit your tax return this way, along with your Social Security number and a mailing address
Lisa Green-Lewis, a certified public accountant (CPA) and tax expert at TurboTax, said that filers who use the IRS Free File program can either provide a bank account or mailing address to get their refunds. (TurboTax participates in the Free File program.)
Visit a Taxpayer Assistance Center
Trained volunteers prepare your return and file it for free at IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offices throughout the country.
Locations vary and include civic centers, places of worship, public libraries or even grocery stores. Appointments are usually required. Use the IRS directory of VITA and TCE locations to find options near you and learn how to make an appointment. Some appointments may be virtual.
In addition, the AARP Foundation provides a Tax-Aide service for people who are over 50 or have low incomes. You can search for locations near you here. Appointments are required; some appointments are in person and some are virtual.
The IRS provides a list of information to bring with you to a tax preparation appointment. You may not have all the items list or some documents may not apply to you, but taking whatever you do have may make the task easier to complete.
How to Help Someone Experiencing Homelessness Get a Stimulus Payment
If a family member or friend is unhoused, you may be able to help facilitate their process of obtaining stimulus payments.
An estimated 35% to 50% of adults experiencing homelessness have a smartphone, according to studies from the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Southern California, respectively. But paying for data to go online may be an obstacle. Free Wi-Fi hotspots might not be convenient or offer strong connections.
Allowing someone to use your home internet could help them file their tax return or check the Get My Payment tool more quickly and easily.
In addition, you might consider accepting and holding onto mail for this person. A reliable place to have their mail delivered might offer some comfort to someone who’s anxious to get their stimulus payment as soon as they can.