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In March, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a plan to distribute economic impact payments to most Americans to help them weather the financial storm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments of $1,200 per individual and $2,400 per married couple, plus $500 for each qualified child, were mailed or direct deposited to millions of people throughout the spring and summer. But lots of eligible domestic violence survivors never saw a dime.
In many cases, abusers stole their checks or withheld the survivors’ half of the payment if they received a single payment as a married couple.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of financial abuse surrounding these checks,” says Galit Tsadik, a certified financial education instructor and founder and CEO of Financial Sharktress. “Abusers taking the check when it arrives essentially saying, ‘You deserve less of this stimulus check than I do since I earn more.’ Legally—and logically—that’s not correct.”
Because the IRS mailed checks to addresses according to the most recent tax return data, many survivors’ checks were mailed to abusers’ homes even though the survivor no longer lives there. In other cases, survivors missed out on stimulus payments not knowing they could file for one even without having filed taxes the previous year or were living in a shelter or homeless at the time of disbursement. (Read more on that in this blog post from the FTC.)
Is There Anything You Can Do?
If an abuser stole or withheld your stimulus check, report it right away, Tsadik says.
“Report it to the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and the IRS,” she says. “You can also consult a family attorney. The best thing to do is to take notes. Write down the date and time a check was received, when it was taken away, when it was deposited into the other person’s account, etc.”
Unfortunately, Tsadik says it’s impossible to say if taking these steps will compel the IRS to issue another check, but it’s worth a shot.
“It’s especially tough because we’re depending on a system that’s not operating at max efficiency because of coronavirus,” she says. “Generally, if you’re a survivor, you need the funds now. But it’s one of those things that needs to go through governmental processes. Still, it’s always worth trying.”
Prevent It from Happening Again
News reports continue to suggest a second round of economic impact payments are coming. A group of 100 U.S. representatives recently petitioned the Treasury Secretary and the IRS to send stimulus checks first to survivors. While it’s undetermined if this will happen, in the event they do, you’ll want to take steps to ensure your second payment doesn’t get lost or stolen.
“Once again, payments will be made based off your most recent tax return, so make sure your tax returns are filed,” Tsadik says. “Make sure your address is correct with the IRS. If you have a different direct deposit account, update it now in preparation.”
If you need help doing any of that, reach out to a tax accountant.
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“It’s been so frustrating that there have been so many last-minute decisions and things with the stimulus packages are constantly evolving,” Tsadik says. “But a tax accountant can say, ‘OK, we’re going to try this and if that doesn’t work, we’ll try this, etc.’”
If you can’t afford to hire an accountant or family attorney, reach out to a domestic violence organization that may be able to refer you to lay legal help for survivors. You may also want to read up more about financial abuse and how to manage money.
“Financial abuse is actually a very efficient form of control,” Tsadik says. “It takes any feelings of power or self-sufficiency away from the survivor. Financial literacy is important, so seek out that education. It’s really not complicated. Your local DV shelter may offer personal finance workshops, and, of course, there are tons of courses available online.”
Trying to get back on your feet after leaving an abuser? Check out “Finding Your Financial Footing After Abuse” for additional tips and advice.
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