Many still eligible for stimulus payments

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Uncle Sam wants you -- to get a check.

More than 100,000 Missourians, including thousands in Southeast Missouri, are eligible for checks of $300 or more under the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress earlier this year. The last checks for people who filed tax returns by April 15 were mailed July 11.

The Internal Revenue Service estimates that 25 percent of the people enrolled in Social Security or who are receiving veterans benefits who would qualify for checks have not sent in the forms needed to receive the money.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson last week sent out a news release urging people who have not received stimulus checks and who have not filed a tax return for 2007 to do so.

"Congress and the president intentionally made the stimulus available to Americans with no income tax liability to boost the local effect of our tax dollars," Emerson said. "In southern Missouri, this is a key opportunity to support local businesses and encourage investment close to home."

Of those who are eligible but have not yet filed the necessary paperwork, 64 percent are 65 or older and 96 percent are Social Security beneficiaries.

The IRS is beginning a publicity campaign designed to make sure people understand what steps they need to take to obtain their stimulus payment, said Michael Devine, spokesman for IRS operations in Missouri and Kansas. He repeated earlier warnings that the IRS does not contact people directly by telephone or e-mail and that anyone claiming to be from the IRS and offering help in obtaining the stimulus check should be ignored.

"The only thing they have to do is send in a 2007 tax return and anyone who calls or e-mails them and says they can speed the process are not telling the truth," Devine said.

Overall, the IRS estimates that 113,147 people who could receive a check have not filed the paperwork needed to obtain their money. Of that number, 1,213 are residents of Cape Girardeau County, 1,128 live in Scott County, 324 live in Bollinger County and 327 live in Perry County. Significant numbers of people eligible for checks are in other Southeast Missouri counties as well, with 930 residents of Stoddard County and 1,344 residents of Butler County potentially missing out on the money.

Stimulus checks range from $300 for individuals to $1,200 for married couples. The checks are increased by $300 for each dependent child. The minimum requirements to be eligible are $3,000 in qualifying income, which can come from Social Security or veterans benefits payments, wages or another qualifying source. People with earned incomes that low, or who only receive money from Social Security, for example, are not generally required to file a federal tax return.

But to receive the stimulus check, those people need to file a return, even if they had no taxable income or income tax liability. There is no penalty for filing a return now if the only reason it is filed is to obtain the stimulus check. The cutoff date for filing the return is Oct. 15.

"We have been successful in reaching about 75 percent of the people in this group, and now we're trying to get neighbors, relatives and anyone who knows someone who might be in this group to reach out and help those who are eligible but have not filed a return," Devine said.

The economic stimulus checks can help stretch a limited budget, Emerson said.

"Skyrocketing gas prices, the rising cost of food and always-rising prices for prescription medications mean the economic stimulus can be a great assistance to Social Security beneficiaries and others who are struggling to make do on a fixed income," Emerson said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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Finding help

If you believe you could be eligible for a stimulus check but have not filed a tax return, the IRS suggests the following contacts:

IRS Economic Stimulus Rebate Hotline: 1-866-234-2942

IRS Taxpayer Advocate: 1-877-275-8721

8th Congressional District office: 137 S. Broadview, Cape Girardeau. 334-1552

Online: www.irs.gov

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