Some relief: New measure includes payments to mixed households

MGN Online

The $2 trillion CARES Act, signed into law in late March, denied direct COVID-19 relief payments to married couples of mixed immigration status, though there’s good news for mixed-status families in the latest relief package just signed into law.

Before, if a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a Social Security Number was married to (and filed taxes jointly with) an undocumented spouse with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, neither spouse was eligible to receive a check. Likewise, households that otherwise would have been eligible for a $500-per-child payment were deemed ineligible — even if the children were U.S. citizens — if one spouse held an ITIN.

The ITIN is assigned by the IRS in order to collect taxes from undocumented residents who are not authorized to work in the United States. The exclusions affected millions of families across the country, especially in places like the Rio Grande Valley where mixed-status families are common. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that 940,000 U.S. citizens or permanents file taxes with an undocumented spouse holding an ITIN.

The $900 billion relief package signed into law on Dec. 27 eliminates the exclusions of the CARES Act, however, allowing relief checks and child payments to go to SNN holders married to ITIN holders.

Checks are going out in the amount of $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and couples making up to $150,000, plus $600 payments per dependent child under 17. Above those income caps the benefit begins to phase out. Another key provision of the new relief package is that it makes mixed-status households eligible retroactively to receive the $1,200-per-individual or $2,400-per-couple payment, and $500-per-child payment, they were denied under the CARES Act. The income caps are the same with both relief packages.

The idea to include mixed-status families in the latest round of relief payments and include retroactive eligibility for CARES Act payments had bipartisan support in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela said the new package “rectifies the unjustifiable exclusion of mixed-status families from the relief provided in the spring of 2020.”

“These families will now get the justice they deserve and receive the stimulus payments which they were previously denied,” he said.

Vela said the current round of payments will provide short-term relief to millions of American families suffering during the pandemic but that much more is needed.

“Access to vaccinations that will end the pandemic are a welcome relief, but Americans are likely confronting another three months of physical and emotional suffering as the vaccination process proceeds, and the probability of continued economic devastation for an additional three months,” Vela said.

He added that he hopes incoming president Joe Biden and congressional Democrats will be able to convince Senate Republicans to agree to an additional $1,400 in payments to eligible U.S. residents, calling it “the right thing to do both morally and for the good of our economy.”

Democrats and some Republicans called for payments of $2,000 rather than $600 per individual this time around, a proposal supported by President Donald Trump, though the effort was thwarted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The new package includes no money for state and local governments taking a beating during the pandemic, funds that House Democrats had included in their version of the relief bill passed in May.

“Provisions in the newest COVID-19 relief package, H.R. 133, do some to equip struggling Americans to temporarily provide for their families, but a much bolder piece of legislation is needed immediately to fill the gaps where H.R. 133 falls short,” Vela said. “I will continue to fight to include direct funding for local and state governments and look forward to working with my colleagues in the 117th Congress to get this done.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com