April 23, 2020

Harris, Colleagues Push Treasury To Ensure Americans Without Broadband Can Receive Economic Impact Payments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday joined Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 22 of their Senate colleagues in urging the Department of Treasury to increase its efforts to make Economic Impact Payments available to the most vulnerable populations—including those without access to the internet who cannot file a tax return electronically.  In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Senators highlighted that at least 21 million Americans are without high-speed internet access and they face a significant barrier in their ability to file a simple tax return online if they are not eligible to receive an automatic payment. 

“We request that you leverage the resources and information at your disposal or partner with the necessary federal agencies to get this relief into the hands of those who need it the most, including Americans who do not have internet access.  Time is of the essence and we hope that you will act quickly and decisively in addressing our concerns,” the Senators wrote.

Joining Harris and Durbin on the letter included Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Angus King (I-ME), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Mark Warner (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

April 22, 2020

Dear Secretary Mnuchin:

We write today urging the Department of Treasury (Treasury) to redouble its efforts to make Economic Impact Payments available to the most vulnerable populations—including those without access to the internet who cannot file a tax return electronically.  We appreciate your decision to ensure that Social Security retirement and disability beneficiaries, as well as Supplemental Security Income recipients, can receive these payments automatically without filing a tax return.  These course corrections were the right move. 

The coronavirus public health emergency has come at a great cost to many Americans, but undoubtedly has had a disproportionate impact on low-income families, seniors, rural communities, and communities of color.  To bring much needed economic relief to these populations, on a bipartisan basis, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which authorized direct cash assistance to be sent to most Americans.

To the credit of both the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in just a matter of a few short weeks, American taxpayers are already receiving their Economic Impact Payments in their checking accounts.  While these efforts deserve recognition, the CARES Act also requires that Treasury coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a public awareness campaign to ensure individuals who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 are aware of their eligibility for the payment.  As you conduct this public awareness campaign, we urge you to consider the unique challenges that low-income and rural Americans may face in filing a tax return online. 

The Federal Communications Commission’s 2019 annual Broadband Deployment Report found that more than 21 million Americans are without access to high-speed internet.  Due to gaps in our nation’s broadband maps, the number of Americans who lack adequate broadband coverage may be much higher.  Furthermore, a 2019 Pew Research Survey found that 50 percent of non-broadband users cite cost as a reason they do not have broadband at home.  These Americans face a significant barrier in their ability to file a simple tax return online if they are not eligible to receive an automatic payment.  Due to current social distancing guidelines, enlisting the help of a family member or friend with internet access is not a feasible option for these individuals.

Treasury must continue to focus on ensuring that those who need this assistance the most can receive their Economic Impact Payment as soon as possible.  We request that you leverage the resources and information at your disposal or partner with the necessary federal agencies to get this relief into the hands of those who need it the most, including Americans who do not have internet access.  Time is of the essence and we hope that you will act quickly and decisively in addressing our concerns.  We look forward to your response and we will continue working to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

Sincerely,

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