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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Featured
Type: Media Coverage

Nearly 200K taxpaying New Yorkers barred from coronavirus relief because of Republican roadblock

At least 197,000 taxpaying New Yorkers will miss out on coronavirus relief payments from the federal government because of a legislative roadblock put in place by Republicans, according to data from the state Taxation and Finance Department.

The $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law last month contains GOP-crafted language that makes people who use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) ineligible for the $1,200 personal checks that the Treasury Department will begin issuing to most workers this week.

ITINs are mostly used by undocumented immigrants who can’t get Social Security numbers but still pay taxes — and in New York alone, there are 197,187 such filers, according to the data reviewed by the Daily News.

More than 112,000 of New York’s ITIN taxpayers live in the city, the data show.

Michael Zona, a spokesman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said that the ITIN restriction was modeled after rules for cash assistance spelled out in the 2008 financial crisis stimulus package.

“[The restriction] prevents illegal immigrants from qualifying for a U.S. taxpayer-funded program and helps reduce fraud and abuse,” said Zona, whose boss played a major role in writing the bill.

Zona failed to mention that ITIN users pay taxes. In addition to undocumented immigrants, ITINs are used by some U.S. visa holders, family members of permanent residents and foreign nationals who receive income in the U.S.

The number of New Yorkers who aren’t going to get stimulus checks because of the Republican restriction is likely even higher than 197,187, according to Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens).

Meng said in a phone interview last week that the bill was written in such a way that mixed-status families don’t qualify for checks, either. That means even someone with a Social Security number, such as a spouse or a dependent child, won’t receive any cash assistance if a person in their household uses an ITIN.

“It’s disheartening,” said Meng, whose immigrant-rich Queens district has been particularly hard-hit by the virus. “I’m trying to get the message out about how much Congress has done here in Queens and here in New York, but every time I have a teleconference call, or a digital town hall, the ITIN issue comes up. … We’re leaving New Yorkers out and that is not OK.”

The Treasury Department says it will send the $1,200 checks — and an extra $500 for every dependent child — to taxpayers who have Social Security numbers and earn less than $75,000 a year. The dollar amount of the checks phases down by $5 for every additional $100 earned above $75,000 until they’re cut off completely for people earning more than $99,000.

Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group, said ITIN taxpayers in the Empire State are overwhelmingly low-income workers, meaning they would have qualified for the maximum stimulus check amount if the Social Security number requirement had been scrapped from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES.

Adding to the financial hardship, many ITIN users in New York likely aren’t able to work due to Gov. Cuomo’s stay-at-home order or apply for unemployment benefits due to their illegal immigration status, leaving them strapped for cash as the state’s coronavirus death toll soars above 10,000.

“Undocumented New Yorkers are working people who are more likely than other New Yorkers to have lost their jobs amidst this crisis,” said Javier Valdes, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “It’s outrageous that the CARES Act excluded them.”

Some congressional Democrats argued for tweaking the rescue bill so that ITIN users would have been able to qualify for the relief payments, but a source involved in the negotiations said Republicans were “adamant” about excluding them.

The government created the ITIN program in 1996 to make sure people can pay the taxes they’re legally required to even if they don’t qualify for Social Security numbers.

Nationally, there are more than 4 million ITIN users, according to the Internal Revenue Service. They contribute roughly $12 billion in taxes annually, according to the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Congress is currently negotiating another stimulus bill that’s expected to top $2 trillion, and getting relief payments to ITIN taxpayers is high on the wish list for Democrats.

Meng and several other New York members of Congress, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, Bronx) and Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens), have co-sponsored a measure called the Leave No Taxpayers Behind Act, which would ensure ITIN users qualify for any additional stimulus checks.

Ocasio-Cortez questioned the logic of not extending benefits to ITIN users.

“If you don’t believe undocumented workers should have access to relief during COVID-19, does that mean you’re willing to return the billions they pay in taxes each year?” she tweeted last week. “Will you defund your schools? Or, in this moment, will we recognize that we should just take care of each other?”