COVID-19

Some people still have not received the first COVID-19 relief check. Here’s why.

Sabri Ben-Achour, Rose Conlon, and Alex Schroeder Jul 20, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
One way to make sure more people get their payments if their is a second round is to consider prepaid debit cards instead of Treasury checks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
COVID-19

Some people still have not received the first COVID-19 relief check. Here’s why.

Sabri Ben-Achour, Rose Conlon, and Alex Schroeder Jul 20, 2020
One way to make sure more people get their payments if their is a second round is to consider prepaid debit cards instead of Treasury checks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate is back in session this week after a two-week recess. It is considering the next coronavirus relief package. Republicans and Democrats disagree over the size of the next round of direct cash payments, and who should get them.

But in the background here, some people still haven’t received the first economic relief payment Congress authorized back in March. A new study by the Urban Institute found racial disparities in whose checks were delayed.

One of the authors of that study, Janet Holtzblatt, is a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. She spoke with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour, and the following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sabri Ben-Achour: You found clear racial disparities in the data. Black and Hispanic people were less likely to have received their payments by late May than white people. Why?

Janet Holtzblatt: To some extent, part of that had to do with limitations and restrictions in the law. The group that had the lowest participation in our study were Hispanic adults who had non-citizens in their families. Under the CARES Act, people were not eligible for the economic impact payments if they were undocumented.

Ben-Achour: Congress, as we mentioned, is considering a second round of payments. How can the process be amended this time to reduce all these kinds of disparities?

Holtzblatt: I think one important aspect would be to really require the Treasury Department, IRS to provide the option of sending the money through prepaid debit cards. They tried that, but many of them received them and tore them up thinking it was junk mail, because there was no logo on the envelope or on the prepaid debit cards that indicated they were coming from the Treasury Department. It had the name of a private vendor.

Correction (Jul. 20, 2020): A previous version of this story misidentified the organization that released the report. The text has been corrected.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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