Less than a month after it lobbied Congress, the Treasury and the IRS to include Americans who are resident abroad in a plan to provide U.S. citizens with a "stimulus payment" to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic, the American Citizens Abroad is now just as forcefully urging Washington officials to fix the problems thousands of expats are having in accessing their money.
In particular, the ACA is calling on the IRS and Treasury Department to fix the IRS's so-called "Get My Payment" online tool, which many U.S.-resident citizens as well as expats have also been reportedly struggling with.
The stimulus payment is supposed to be going out to U.S. taxpayers around the world as part of a US$2trn "coronavirus rescue package" known as the CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. It has been described as the largest such financial stimulus package in U.S. history.
The ACA's effort came on Friday in an emailed letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – copied to four members of Congress known to be sympathetic to expat concerns, and National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins – in which the Rockville, Maryland-based non-profit organization chided the IRS for creating a tool for delivering the stimulus payments that assumes the recipients have U.S. bank accounts, which many if not most expats don't, and for its continued failure to provide online forms that can handle a non-U.S. address.
Expat users of the IRS's Get My Payment forms, the ACA says in its letter, have been reporting that "once they input their foreign address, name and Social Security Number, they receive an immediate 'payment status unavailable' or 'unable to verify your eligibility' error message'".
In its letter the ACA says it "understands that for reasons of safety and fraud prevention, the IRS is requiring that the recipient have a U.S.-based bank or other financial institution, including a credit union, for direct deposit of the recovery rebates", but notes that the Social Security Administration has long managed to overcome issues associated with these concerns, thus enabling Americans who live overseas to obtain Social Security payments directly into their foreign bank accounts.
"The IRS has said that it will use the banking information on record for making direct deposits of Social Security benefits for purposes of making recovery rebates.
"[But in the current system for handling recovery rebates, there is nothing similar to the creation of a Social Security Administration account in the name of the recipient. Perhaps Treasury and the IRS have in mind creating something like this, but this piece of the machinery is not currently in place.
"ACA believes that a means for delivering recovery rebates/payments to Americans overseas, including those who in the past did not need to file a return as well as those who do not have a US financial account, must be developed and made available as soon as possible."
In its letter the ACA reminded Rettig and Mnuchin that it and its sister organization, the American Citizens Abroad Global Foundation, represented an "estimated 8 million to 9 million Americans living abroad".
As reported here last week, news that U.S. taxpayers were having problems with the IRS's Get My Payment tool emerged almost as soon as it went live. A U.S.-based wealth management specialist website, ThinkAdvisor.com., ran an article with the headline "IRS' New 'Get My Payment Tool' Frustrates Users" that featured a Twitter posting, by an apparently U.S.-based taxpayer, who wrote: " 'Payment Status Not Available' is just so wild. The IRS will find you if you live in Mordor, but if you try to get your #Stimuluscheck they've suddenly never heard of you'."
Even before this, the Democrats Abroad had also written to top officials at the U.S. Treasury Department and IRS to urge them make it easier for American expats to access the stimulus money that was theoretically being made available to them, as did Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, as reported here on April 15.
Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported last Wednesday, some of those who have actually been successful at nailing the payments have not been the taxpayers in question themselves, but scammers. The IRS has been warning those looking to obtain their stimulus payments to be on the lookout for fraudsters.
Editor's note: Since this story was written, the IRS has issued a statement saying that it has been working on enhancing its "Get My Payment" tool, and that it had made significant progress in making it work properly for those attempting to use it. To read about the IRS's statement, click here.
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