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Americans Abroad Awaiting Pandemic Relief, Treasury Told

By Alex M. Parker · 2020-04-27 19:39:42 -0400

Many American citizens living abroad have not yet received pandemic relief payments because of administrative and technical difficulties, an organization representing expatriates has told the U.S. Treasury Department.

In a letter sent Friday, American Citizens Abroad urged the department and the Internal Revenue Service to streamline the application process and to mount a public awareness campaign to notify taxpayers of potential workarounds. The organization also said it could help those citizens directly by helping them set up U.S. bank accounts, one of the requirements for receiving the payment through direct deposit.

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act , signed into law by President Donald Trump in March, authorized $1,200 payments to all Americans earning $75,000 a year or less, with reduced amounts for those earning $75,000 to $99,000 per year. The law is a response to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. The legislation tasked the Internal Revenue Service with administering the payments, which has proved a difficult task, as many still wait to receive payments either electronically or through the mail.

To receive a payment electronically, a citizen must have a U.S. bank account, regardless of where the citizen lives. American Citizens Abroad acknowledged that this condition was necessary for security and for fraud prevention but noted that it could be a hurdle for some expatriates.

"This can be a problem for Americans overseas who generally bank locally in the countries where they live and only have a foreign bank account," the letter stated.

The organization said it could work with its members to set up accounts with the State Department Federal Credit Union, which does not require a minimum balance or any fees.

Treasury and the IRS should notify those living abroad who did not file taxes in 2019 or 2018 that they can file a simplified return to ensure that the agency has their filing information. 

The IRS website for registering for the payment also often will not accept a foreign address or postal code because of apparent glitches in the system, the letter stated. It also may require a U.S. phone number to verify — although most ACA members haven't made it far enough into the process to find out. 

The organization urged Treasury and the IRS to create a streamlined system for payment delivery, possibly building on similar work from the government to administer stimulus payments in 2008.

"Everyone recognizes that relying upon paper checks that are mailed to locations outside the United States must be avoided if humanly possible," the letter stated.

Treasury and the IRS did not respond to requests for comment. 

--Editing by Vincent Sherry. 

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