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Some D.C. Residents Still Without Stimulus Funds

Nearly two months after the U.S. Treasury began doling out coronavirus stimulus checks for as much as $1,200, Marsha Williams is among those still waiting for what they thought had been promised to American taxpayers.

In her precarious financial state, Williams, an elderly retiree from Southeast, said she has little else but the grace of her landlord and niece to rely on during a public health state of emergency that brought economic and social activity to a standstill while exacerbating her long-standing economic woes.

“All I have are my stamps at $200 [a month], and now it’s at $194. I can’t get my retirement and Social Security, and that’s been happening since 2017,” Williams told The Informer on Tuesday after unsuccessfully attempting to tap into Social Security and retirement funds that have accumulated for more than two decades.

Last month, Williams counted among more than four dozen homeless or socioeconomically disadvantaged people who filed their 2019 tax return during workshops at So Others Might Eat in Northwest coordinated by former mayoral candidate James Butler.

Williams, retired since 2017 and without tax returns for 2018, said she signed up as a non-filer in accordance with what the IRS requested for the disbursement of her funds. Even though she received confirmation that her return had been accepted, Williams recounted follow-up emails from the IRS prompting her to alter certain parts of her document, and eventually declining her return altogether.

“I’m trying to find a way to get my money so I can get what’s mine,” said Williams, a onetime branch manager of a check-cashing franchise. “The older I get, the harder it’s been to get some work. There’s nothing that I’m asking for. All I want is what I worked for.”

If passed, a bill under consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate would give another round of economic relief to those who lost their jobs during the pandemic, couldn’t work because of the stay-at-home order, or suffered other setbacks. The legislation, titled the HEROES Act, came amid increasing unemployment and calls among officials in the Federal Reserve for an infusion of additional funds into the economy.

As Williams and an untold number of others in the District and across the country keep searching for answers about their stimulus checks, reports are surfacing about additional stimulus payments scheduled for later this year, and the IRS’s need for more information from some applicants.

Todd Jones, a local accountant who helped Williams and others file their taxes, mentioned other conditions endemic to economically insecure D.C. residents who have yet to receive their check.

“Some hurdles that people face in getting stimulus funds are not retaining tax documents or payroll documents, and not having a fixed address or bank account,” Jones said. “Those with a disability or mental behavior/health issues are [also] not receiving any guidance from their social worker or mental health professional around their stimulus funds that are guaranteed to them.”

In the District, housing insecurity and mental and physical disabilities go hand in hand, so much so that the Department of Behavioral Health has been tasked with helping homeless people, particularly those battling mental illness and drug abuse, with treatment and housing. The agency’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget of $319 million represents a 10 percent increase geared toward strengthening a unit that works around the clock in homeless outreach, arrest diversion, and crisis prevention.

Butler, a former ANC commissioner, said he organized the tax assistance for vulnerable Washingtonians after calling local service providers to see what, if anything, had been put in place to help that population acquire their stimulus funds. After what he described as the success of one two-week endeavor, Butler expressed his intention of coordinating another workshop at a location east of the Anacostia River later this month.

“We were able to help a lot of people, but because of limited administrative power, there are still many people who haven’t been helped,” Butler said. “People need this money. Some are hurting because they don’t have a D.C. ID or they experienced temporary homelessness. Until they get that ID, it’s impossible to put them in the system. They wouldn’t have to do anything [else], just file as a non-filer and get that check.”

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