House bill expands payments: HEROES Act relief would go to ITIN holders

The direct relief payments that the $2.2 trillion CARES Act emergency relief package provided to Americans excludes people with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers instead of Social Security Numbers, and also “mixed households” in which one spouse used an ITIN rather than a SSN in filing their taxes jointly in 2018 or 2019.

Criticism of this exclusion has been based on the fact that the IRS collects federal taxes from ITIN holders, even though they are officially unauthorized to work inside the United States, and therefore should be entitled to federal relief payments during the pandemic, and at the very least, that entire households should not be penalized because one spouse holds an ITIN. The economic fallout does not affect unauthorized workers less. In fact, Latinos are among the hardest hit by pandemic-related pay cuts and job losses, according to a study from the Pew Research Foundation.

The $3 trillion HEROES Act, passed by the U.S. House on May 15, would retroactively remove the exclusion of ITIN holders and mixed households in its provision for another round of direct relief payments. Many Americans are still waiting for their first direct payments to arrive — up $1,250 for individuals and $2,400 families, and $500 per eligible dependent child 17 or younger.

But the HEROES Act is up against tough opposition from the White House and Senate Republicans, who have essentially pronounced it dead on arrival. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claims a lack of urgency, arguing that the full impact of the CARES Act, signed March 27, should be known before moving forward with another massive relief package.

However, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell issued a dire warning on May 13 that the country could be in for a prolonged recession if the government does not take further action to rescue the foundering economy, including more financial assistance to small businesses, the unemployed, individuals and families.

“We ought to do what we can to avoid these outcomes,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, speaking to The Brownsville Herald the week of the HEROES Act vote, speculated that the bill would go nowhere for at least a month due to Republican opposition, though on Thursday he observed that some Republicans are starting to see things in a new light. Rolling out the bill even in the face of staunch opposition, meanwhile, was necessary to “ensure that we addressed injustices not previously addressed, he said.

Those injustices include denying relief assistance to U.S. citizens, including children, because one spouse in a household has an ITIN rather than a SSN, Vela said.

“Republican resistance to giving local units or governments economic relief during the pandemic is another example of why the bill was so important to pass,” he said. “Some Republicans are beginning to come to their senses and I think that the wall is beginning to crack and that, slowly but surely, Congress will negotiate its way to a resolution. I do think we are still at least four weeks away from that point.”