How many otherwise eligible U.S. citizen kids in immigrant households can no longer access vital COVID relief funds for tax year 2021 because of obscure tax rules affecting only immigrant households? The vast majority of kids in the U.S. (with Social Security numbers) were made eligible under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for assistance, even if their parents are undocumented and/or had little/no income.  Families continue to access these funds around the country (up to $5000 per child) EXCEPT immigrant filers who because of delays in processing within the agencies didn’t get their Social Security Numbers (SSNs) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) in time. We have been working to urge the IRS Commissioner to exercise his authority and grant a filing extension for these deserving households.  Time is of the essence as the Commissioner will be stepping down soon (November 12) and he has indicated to us that he will make a decision before that. Here’s why you should join us in this effort:

While many thousands of immigrant families are affected, it doesn’t help that such families (the ones who bore the brunt of the pandemic, were the hardest to reach and required the most specialized filing assistance) also find themselves in a kind of advocacy vacuum as most immigration advocates don’t do tax, and most tax advocates don’t tend to work with immigrants.   This is a national issue but there is little awareness of how much is at stake and for how many families.  $5,000 would mean the world to an undocumented mom of a handicapped child living in a shelter; $10,000 would change the life of a struggling family granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who weren’t able to get their social security numbers in time.  We are still getting referrals from schools, churches, health centers, etc. and I am heartbroken it is too late for most of them.  Parents who were U.S. Citizens continue to be able to claim the funds for three years.  But the barriers facing immigrant families were often insurmountable given the time pressure of the filing date and the lack of available assistance.

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is putting out a statewide letter reiterating our extension request and I hope those reading this blog are inspired to endorse it.  Our initial request letter garnered over 100 signatures nationwide.   28 mayors around the country have also asked for the extension and 7 senators signed their own letter.  The Urban Institute just published a study highlighting the barriers facing these families.  Will any of this make a difference and move Treasury to act?

The Administration was able to pivot for tax year 2021 and change longstanding procedures to ensure poor families (so-called “non-filers” unknown to the IRS, e.g., those without a filing requirement) had quick access to vital relief – but immigrant families are treated differently. The IRS was tasked with providing aggressive outreach, launching online filing portals, issuing credits in advance of being claimed on any return.  None of these innovations were available to immigrants requiring tax ids, and they were subject to a little-known filing deadline stemming from the 2015 PATH Act.

The IRS just announced it is sending 9 million letters to folks who might have missed out on the COVID relief from the 2021 tax year, which prompts me to ask “What about our immigrant families?”  Those who were just as eligible for COVID relief but who have NO way to get it now.  Treasury had zip code level analysis of the many tens of thousands of eligible kids at risk of missing out on the Child Tax Credit (likely because their families lacked a filing requirement due to being low income).  How many of those children buried in IRS statistics have immigrant parents who are now barred from filing?

These relief funds flowed through the IRS for administrative expediency, but our convoluted tax filing rules left too many eligible children behind simply because of the timing of their immigrant parents’ tax identification numbers being issued, or delays in processing by the Social Security Administration. Fairness requires that the funds be equitably distributed.

That is why we are urging the IRS Commissioner to take action. The reasons for our request are compelling: the COVID emergency declaration as the legal basis for the Commissioner’s authority, the serious equity concerns in leaving these kids behind, the severe obstacles immigrant families faced filing in time, and the almost total lack of public awareness of the existence of a separate deadline affecting immigrant families.  If we can grant extensions for weather emergencies, we can do it for COVID relief to needy families!

Please contact me if you would like more information and to endorse the MLRI letter to the IRS Commissioner.  Thank you!