What You Need to Know: COVID-19, Stimulus Checks & People with Disabilities

Advice from a Premiere Disability Rights Attorney and Yang-Tan Institute Faculty Member

April 23, 2020

Over the past few weeks, Ray Cebula has worked countless hours giving input into and deciphering the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Cebula is a faculty member at the Yang-Tan Institute, which is part of Cornell University’s ILR School, and is also one of the premiere disability rights attorneys in the United States.

The federal legislation called the CARES Act is more than 800 pages long and extremely complicated. It potentially gets even more so for people with disabilities who live in poverty and receive public benefits.

“Twelve hundred dollars to the SSI population is a lot of money,” said Cebula. “We were trying to figure out what is required of beneficiaries to get that money. We were also trying to figure out how that cash would be treated by all of the federal agencies and the states.”

Easier said than done, but answers are coming. An individual who receives Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is eligible for the $1,200 stimulus check. That check is not taxable and will not be counted as income in the calculation of the person’s SSI amount for that month. In other words, the stimulus check will not impact their SSI benefits or be counted as a resource for 12 months.

Here’s the potential catch though—in order to receive a stimulus check, individuals may need to take a specific step.

People who receive SSI who typically file tax returns and receive their public benefits via direct deposit, Direct Express EBT cards, or paper check should receive their stimulus check automatically.

However, SSI recipients who do not regularly file taxes, will need to fill out a non-tax filer form through the Internal Revenue Service’s website in order to receive the portion of their stimulus check paid for each dependent. Someone who can claim a dependent, as defined by the CARES Act, receives an additional $500 stimulus bump per child, although the term dependent is unique to the stimulus check circumstance.

Additionally, people who receive a Veterans Pension Benefit, which is designed to help very low-income veterans, must fill out a non-tax filer form in order to receive a stimulus check.

Cebula says going online to fill out a non-tax filer form is a problem if someone doesn’t have the resources to have a computer or internet access.

“Having to fill out a non-filer form in order to receive the stimulus check can be extremely challenging for low-income individuals,” said Cebula. “Libraries are even closed now, so someone can’t even use a public computer.”

Cebula has reached out to thousands of credentialed work incentives specialists who are graduates from his work incentives course as well as to other organizations to alert them that people who they work with may need technological support with filling out the form.

“We’ve been telling homeless shelters, group homes, everybody that we can tell—it’s now your job to take these residents of your shelter or group home and get on the computer with them to fill out these forms so they can claim some of that money,” said Cebula.

Cebula and the Yang-Tan Institute are frequently updating a document, called COVID-19 and Social Insurance and Benefits Programs, that includes all the information in this article and much more. You can find a link to that document in both English and Spanish, and to a webinar about the topic, on the COVID-19 Resources from YTI web page.

“The document explains in detail what social insurance and benefits program recipients need to know in regards to the CARES Act,” said Cebula. “The information is constantly changing so we are assembling the information into one place to make people’s lives simpler.”

Another issue that is outlined in the document is stimulus payment intercepts. The CARES Act allows for stimulus payments to be taken away from people who are behind on their child support payments. However, some banks are also intercepting stimulus checks for people who have defaulted on private student loans or who have overdue credit cards.

Most recently, some nursing homes have tried to intercept payments to residents. “If a nursing home was accepting the Medicaid cost of care last month, they have no business stealing $1,200 from an elderly or sick person who needs that money,” said Cebula.

If someone has concerns that either their stimulus check or a loved one’s stimulus check may be intercepted, they are advised to call their state’s consumer affairs office, elder affairs office, or local legal services agency.

View more COVID-19 Resources from YTI