The recent global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has left millions of people out of work and shut the doors on businesses across the country. To assist those in need, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020.
The CARES Act includes an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for every adult meeting certain income parameters. While these payments may welcome relief to many in need, recipients need to take steps to protect this aid. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reassures older Americans on Medicaid their stimulus payments cannot be taken by nursing homes or assisted living facilities. If your facility has already taken your stimulus check, you may be able to get it back by hiring an elder law attorney.
A Closer Look at What is Included in the CARES Act
The CARES Act was created to provide immediate financial help for workers, families, and small businesses facing hardships due to COVID-19. The bill, signed into law on March 27, 2020, offers payments for adults and children under 17 years old.
Social security recipients who did not file taxes in either 2018 or 2019 are also eligible to receive payments via paper checks or direct deposits. Individuals earning above the income threshold also receive payments that are reduced incrementally based on their income. You can visit the IRS website for more detailed information on economic impact payments.
Why Have I Not Received a Stimulus Check?
As of June 3, 2020, the IRS sent out 159 million payments, with the first wave going to households with the lowest incomes. Back in April, it was estimated that the entire process could take up to 20 weeks. There are a few reasons why your check may be delayed, including the following:
- Your banking information on record with the IRS is no longer valid.
- The IRS started issuing a paper check before you submitted your direct deposit information.
- Your bank had a problem processing your check.
- You did not file taxes in 2018 or 2019 and need to file a form.
- You were scammed and received a letter stating payment was sent but you never received it.
The good news is that the IRS hired 3,500 additional telephone representatives to assist people with questions about their stimulus payments. Contact them if you have not received a payment or you are unsure about your eligibility.
How Can I Protect my Stimulus Check?
If you or a loved one is on Medicaid and lives in a nursing home or other senior housing, you need to know there are several reports of facilities unlawfully taking residents’ stimulus payments.
Under the CARES Act, economic relief payments are considered tax credits. Tax law states tax credits, like stimulus payments, are not counted as resources for federal programs and cannot be seized by assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Whether these facilities are taking these funds maliciously, or simply do not know the law, it is disheartening to know many seniors will not receive financial assistance that they need and deserve.
What Should I do if my Nursing Home Took my Stimulus Check?
If your nursing home requested your stimulus payment, you can direct them to the tax law that confirms refunds are not a resource available to federal benefits programs. If they persist in pursuing your economic impact payment, speaking to a lawyer may be advisable.
If necessary, an experienced attorney familiar with the CARES Act and tax law will advocate for you to protect your payment or take legal action if your check has already been taken. The FTC also recommends notifying your state attorney general and filing a complaint with the FTC. With legal counsel, you may be able to recover your stimulus check.
Other COVID-19 Scams Targeting Seniors
It is not just nursing homes trying to get their hands on your stimulus check. After the government announced plans to rollout the national economic assistance program, the scammers were not far behind. Many of these COVID-19-related scams pray upon our nation’s most vulnerable seniors. In fact, the FTC has already had more than 20,000 complaints from all 50 states about coronavirus scams.
Here are a few of the more common COVID-19 scams:
- Fake test kits and bogus treatments: Scammers collect payments in return for products that do not work or do not even exist. In addition to fake tests and treatments, people are also selling fake sanitizer and poorly-made masks that do not meet CDC guidelines.
- Alerts claiming you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19: The email or text includes a link for more information. When you click on it, you may be downloading malware that steals your personal information.
- Messages claiming to be from government health agencies: Scammers claiming to represent the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and World Health Organization ask for donations or send links to “mandatory” online COVID-19 tests.
- Jobs and financial aid opportunities: So many people have been hit hard by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Scammers are quick to capitalize on their needs, offering bogus work-at-home jobs, loans, or debt consolidation plans that do more harm than good.
- People accepting money to shop for groceries and help in other ways: Be wary of strangers offering to help with shopping and other errands while you are unable to leave home. Ask a trusted family member or friend for assistance.
To prevent yourself from being the victim of a COVID-19 scam, consider the following:
- Do not answer or reply to calls, texts, or emails from unknown senders.
- Never share personal information, like bank accounts or credit card numbers, usernames, and passwords with anyone you do not know.
- Avoid clicking on attachments and links from unfamiliar sources.
- If you have questions or concerns about the virus or how it is transmitted, trust your physician, the CDC, or other reputable sources for accurate, up-to-date information.
- Take time to research a charity before you donate.
- Remember at this time, no products are available to prevent or treat COVID-19. Until that changes, avoid products that claim to do so.
When in doubt, ask a trusted friend, loved one, or a professional attorney for assistance in detecting a scam.
Looking Forward to a Second Stimulus Package
An additional economic relief package may be in the works to alleviate the financial fallout caused by COVID-19. While nothing can happen until Congress returns from recess in late July, experts predict the next package will contain additional unemployment benefits and a second stimulus check. That is around the same time the current benefits covered under the CARES Act are scheduled to expire. Now that you know your rights, you can protect your benefits and report any facility trying to claim your stimulus check illegally.
Should I Speak to a Lawyer?
If you have concerns about your stimulus check, scams, or want to learn about Medicaid planning during this unprecedented time, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer. A lawyer understands that the pandemic has led to new obstacles and will address your questions. Additionally, a lawyer will protect your rights and ensure that your long-term care is secured.
Brooklyn Elder Law Lawyers at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP Represent Seniors and Their Loved Ones
Our dedicated Brooklyn elder law lawyers at Korsinsky & Klein, LLP are eager to clear up common misconceptions during this time. If you are on Medicaid and reside in a nursing home, your stimulus check belongs to you. Do not hand it over to your living facility. We are here to advocate for you regarding COVID-19 scams and CARES Act benefits. If you fear you have been a victim of a coronavirus scam, we can help. Call us at 212-495-8133 or complete an online form for an initial consultation today. Located in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Lakewood, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New York and New Jersey.