Final Three Weeks: How to Help Residents Get Their Stimulus Checks

Please note the IRS has extended the date for non-filers to use their tool and claim the credit to November 21, 2020.

Thanks to the outreach efforts of thousands of cities, states, and community organizations, 7 million people who were excluded from the automatic delivery of payments have used the online form. Yet, more outreach is needed to help the remaining 5 million who may miss out on their money this year because they don’t know they are eligible, don’t know how to get their payment, or need help completing the online form.

With just three weeks left, cities can play a significant role in helping eligible people get their stimulus payments. For example, in Durham, North Carolina, Mayor Steve Schewel has led a stimulus outreach campaign since May. Since stimulus payments are primarily spent locally, the money benefits residents and cities.

There’s plenty cities can do during these final weeks. Here are five steps to incorporate into your plans for making a final stimulus outreach push.

1. Assess the lay of the (stimulus outreach) land.

Learn what groups are already engaged in outreach efforts. Local United Ways, Community Action Agencies, or Catholic Charities agencies may be involved in stimulus outreach in your city. While many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs have closed, some continue to offer help with tax filing and stimulus payments and can serve as another source of assistance, as can Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs). Coordinate partnerships and outreach efforts that align with what’s already happening.

2. Craft your core message.

Information that cities share during these final three weeks must direct people to where they can find help to get their stimulus payments. If organizations in your city don’t offer stimulus assistance, you can refer residents to two national resources.

First, United Way’s 211 Economic Impact Payment Helpline (1-844-322-3639) can answer specific questions about the stimulus, including eligibility and completing the IRS Non-filer form. It operates 24/7 with live people available 10 am – 6 pm ET M-F through October 15.

Second, you can direct people to Code for America’s Get Your Refund Service, a free, mobile-friendly platform that uses VITA volunteers to help people get their stimulus check and file a tax return if needed.

Depending on what local resources for help are available, your message may also need to address who is eligible for stimulus checks. Some eligible people haven’t gotten their stimulus checks yet because they don’t think they qualify. Share basic eligibility criteria so people know whether to seek assistance. Let residents know that U.S. citizens, permanent residents, green card holders, and certain immigrants who have lived and worked in the U.S. for an extended period of time can get stimulus payments even if they don’t have income. While there are other qualifications, highlighting these can reassure many people that the stimulus is for them.

3. Get the word out.

Use your role as a city leader to send information through ALL channels that can reach eligible people who haven’t gotten their stimulus checks yet. The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities’ stimulus outreach toolkit, available in English and Spanish, includes customizable templates to disseminate information through press releases, op-eds, social media, text messages, newsletters, radio, video, and more.

Leverage your connections with various entities that can share information, such as utility companies, school districts, and library systems. Call on essential places that residents visit — like city offices and buildings, grocery stores, food banks, and laundromats — to disseminate flyers/postcards or to ask residents if they signed up for their stimulus check.

4. Identify priority populations and partners for outreach.

Eligible people who may miss out on their stimulus payments include people who are housing insecure, have disabilities, are disconnected from work opportunities, participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), don’t speak English as a first language, and are formerly incarcerated. Encourage trusted groups in your area that work with these populations to get involved in the final stimulus outreach push.

Collaborate with these groups and organizations providing stimulus assistance to hold at least one filing event to help people complete the online form to get their stimulus payments. These partnerships are especially important to reach people with limited internet access or use of technology. Filing events can also address other common stimulus concerns like getting the payment without a permanent mailing address or a bank account.

5. Repeat.

Now that you know local resources for help, your message, outreach channels, audience, and partners, plan to share your message weekly, along with important dates. In addition to October 15 and filing events, September 30 is important to highlight as it is the last day for participants in certain federal programs to submit information so they can get the additional stimulus for dependents this year.

During these final days leading to October 15, city leaders can play a critical role in bringing financial relief to residents who the IRS missed through automatic stimulus payment delivery. While there are multiple priorities to focus on during this continued pandemic, stimulus payments outreach is an opportunity to demonstrate inclusive and equitable leadership while advancing the economic health of residents and cities.

About the Author

Roxy Caines is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ EITC/Get it Back Campaign Director.