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Concerns have been raised over how accessible CARES Act Payments will be for Americans living outside of the USA. The CARES Act, which was passed by Congress in March, is an economic stimulus package in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Under the Act, Americans will be eligible to receive a one off rebate which could offer up to $1200 per individual filer, or $2400 for married couples.
However, Democrats Abroad have highlighted several problems they'd like to see addressed which could hinder the ability for overseas Americans to access payments. The problems were included in a letter sent yesterday (April 13, 2020) to US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, written by Democrats Abroad's International Chair, Julia Bryan.
In the letter, Ms Bryan writes that "We appreciate that the CARES Act makes the Recovery Rebate available to US Citizens regardless of their place of residence, but the aid delivery process does not currently allow many Americans abroad to access that aid. We therefore request that the process be amended to allow nominal support to become actual."
Among the concerns raised, Democrats Abroad highlight issues relating to the administration of payments, limitations with international telecommunications, and public awareness.
Administration of Payments
The recently announced tool for non-filers to claim payments "is limited by the system's inability to accomodate non-US bank account details ... As you are aware, regulations make it very difficult for US banks to provide accounts and services to customers lacking a US residential address. Americans living outside the US are, in many instances, without an account they can provide the IRS".
Those without bank accounts will be mailed a check, but Democrats Abroad say that "We do not suggest the aid to be delivered via US dollar checks or debit cards sent via the post. Postal Service to many places around the world is unreliable at the best of times and service disruptions have occured in many places due to the pandemic. US dollar checks are often impossible to cash outside the US or incur high fees and take weeks to clear."
To address this, Democrats Abroad suggest "that the IRS undertake the requisite alterations to the 'Non-Filers' tool, as well as the to-be published 'Get My Payment' tool, in order to support Americans abroad to receive CARES Act aid by direct deposit into their local bank account."
Particularly referring to CARES Act relief for overseas Americans paying off federal student loans, Democrats Abroad say that "The zeroing out of the federal student loan interest rate until September 30, 2020 applied instantly to all loans is very helpful to Americans abroad who are repaying federal student loans. Loan forbearance available through the Act is also a valuable initiative, however it requires outreach by the borrow to the loan servicer ... toll-free phone numbers published by the federal student loan servicers are inaccessible from abroad, leaving Americans abroad with no access to the benefit."
Democrats Abroad are asking the IRS deliver a "coordinated response to this problem".
Pointing to provisions in the CARES Act to improve public awareness of the US Government's relief efforts, Democrats Abroad used the letter to reiterate previous recommendations they'd issued to:
- "work with the State Department to establish how to use its various resources - websites, social media platforms" etc to message "members of the Americans abroad community about the CARES Act";
- "work with the State Department to determine how to use most effectively the email and mobile phone data collected by the State Department from Americans abroad who signed up for Warden System or the STEP Program to message Americans abroad about the CARES Act;
- "establish an internationally accessible telephone help line and email address to facilitate engagement by Americans abroad in the CARES Act".
The full letter from Democrats Abroad can be found online at https://www.democratsabroad.org/carmelan/democrats_abroad_pushes_for_cares_act_accessibility_for_americans_abroad. If you have been affected by any of the issues highlighted in this article, contact The American via firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass on issues to relevant advocacy groups.
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