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5 people on the frustration of trying to track down their stimulus checks

The payments were meant to bail out struggling Americans, but millions of eligible individuals still haven’t seen a cent.

Millions of Americans still have not received their CARES Act stimulus checks, making it hard to afford rent and other necessities.
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

It’s hard not to poke around on social media and feel like everyone and their brother — even their deceased brother, in some cases — has already gotten their coronavirus stimulus check. But the reality is that millions of Americans across the economic spectrum are still waiting for the funds to arrive in their mailboxes or direct-deposit accounts.

In accordance with the CARES Act, which US lawmakers passed in late March in an effort to infuse individuals, large corporations, and small businesses with badly needed economic relief, the IRS says it has distributed at least 130 million “Economic Impact Payments” thus far, up to $1,200 per individual and worth a combined total of more than $200 billion (an estimated 150 million people in America are eligible for stimulus money). A second wave of aid is already in the works, with House Democrats releasing an opening bid of funding worth over $3 trillion.

But for those still missing stimulus checks, getting to the bottom of why can feel like a bureaucratic mess. Like so many state unemployment offices across the country, the IRS website has been clogged in recent weeks by a massive onslaught of new queries — meaning there are no representatives available to take calls from those worried that some kind of technical snafu has delayed their payment.

Meanwhile, the IRS’s online “Get My Payment” tool, which promises to update hopeful would-be recipients on the status of their checks, has been plagued with technical glitches and spotty service, stoking legitimate fears among those worried that interminable American bureaucracy could delay their payment indefinitely.

Many of the people Vox spoke to who were still awaiting stimulus checks were nontraditional tax filers and Social Security recipients whose payments have likely been hampered by the IRS’s need to cross-check information against the records of another government agency, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Social Security Administration. But those same individuals are more likely to be financially insecure in the first place — meaning the missing relief payments have become a source of anxiety and agony.

Karen Spencer, a 54-year-old Army veteran and minister from Salem, Oregon, told Vox that she suspected her status as a Supplemental Security Income recipient was causing delays, but stressed that her already limited income meant she needed the check more than ever to get by.

“It’s a government failure that so many veterans are still waiting for their stimulus money,” Spencer said. “I’ve been in communication with other veterans who haven’t received stimulus checks, and they’re lost too.”

Below are the stories of five people still waiting on economic stimulus payments, condensed and edited for clarity.

“It’s a government failure that so many veterans are still waiting for their stimulus money. ... They think we’re disposable.”

Karen “Jypsea” Spencer, 54, Salem, Oregon

It’s just kind of concerning, because they’re talking about putting out another round of checks for people and I haven’t even gotten the first check. I’m on [Supplemental Security Income] — they have my bank account number, they know where I am — so why is there a hold-up? It’s been pretty rough. I’ve worked quite a bit my entire life and paid in quite a bit to the Social Security system, and I feel like the money that I’m asking to get back is my own money, and they’re expecting me to beg for it. It’s like, dude, why?

I’m just totally in the dark about when I can expect a payment. I’m an Army veteran, and now a minister. I served as a medic in the Army, and my last duty station was Fort Sam in Houston, Texas, during Desert Storm. My son also served, and neither one of us gets military benefits, even though we both have honorable discharges due to injuries.

I’m unable to pay my bills, and I literally have $30 left in the bank. I get $783 a month from Social Security, and my rent is $750. I just got separated from my spouse, so [it’s like] half my income just went out the door. On top of that, my vehicle just suffered a cracked engine block a week and a half ago, and I was unable to deal with that because I’m waiting on this stimulus. Finally, I was able to find another vehicle for $500, and I used my entire Social Security check to buy it. There are a lot of people that depend on me, and I’m disabled, so I have to be able to get to doctor’s appointments myself.

It’s a government failure that so many veterans are still waiting for their stimulus money. I’ve been in communication with other veterans who haven’t received stimulus checks, and they’re lost too. They don’t know who to turn to — we’ve called, we’ve texted, we’ve messaged, we’ve posted, but we’re not getting any help. Quite honestly, they don’t care about us; we are not a source of revenue for them. They think we’re disposable.

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to make ends meet”

Latichia Brown, 28, Chicago, Illinois

My mom, my sister, my dad, they all received their government stimulus checks, but I haven’t gotten anything yet. The reason why, I’m guessing, is that I haven’t filed my taxes since 2016, because I wasn’t required to. The IRS came out with the non-filers tool [for those who meet certain requirements that exempt them from filing taxes, like having an adjusted gross income that falls under a certain threshold], and every day since then, I’ve been trying to put my information in for me and my son, but I keep getting rejected because they keep saying I need an [Identity Protection Pin]. But I can’t put in the request with the IRS because I can’t call them right now [due to reduced staffing at the organization], so I’m just at a big roadblock, a big standstill. They’re sending money to deceased people and it’s just like, what the heck?

Courtesy of Latichia Brown

It’s very frustrating. I’m a single mom of an 8-year-old, and I work part time as a food aide for Meals On Wheels. I make about $550 every check and get paid every two weeks. That’s like $1,100 every month; that’s nothing. There’s food, there’s bills, so it’s just like, okay, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to make ends meet. I used to work DoorDash as my second job, but because I am a chronic asthmatic, I can’t do it anymore because it’s high risk for me to be in contact with different people like that.

While I wait for the money, I’ve been trying little giveaways — celebrities go on Instagram and say they’re giving away money, and you just hope they look at you and say, “Hey, what’s your Cash App username?” I’ve seen Jeffree Star do a couple, Cardi B has done some, Fashion Nova has done a couple. Every time I see one, I sign up, but so far it’s been nothing.

I have my family to help me, but I try not to reach out to a lot of people. I’m the type of person where if I need something, I’m going to get it myself. If I ask for help, in the back of my head I’m always like, “Okay, now I’ve got to pay them back.” Even with the celebrity giveaways, I hate posting it publicly on social media, because you never know when somebody you know is going to see it. People can judge me all day every day, but it’s just irritating — it feels like the system is all messed up. There’s no tool for people like me, who need an IPN, who haven’t filed since 2016. We’re just out here with no help.

“We have no security; we don’t have a savings account”

Brenda Wright, 53, Redding, California

We don’t live in a very good place, me and my fiancé, and he’s also on disability and hasn’t gotten his stimulus check, either. The house we rent is dirty, ugly, filthy — we can’t even flush our toilet without having to take the back of it off. Every time we ask the landlord to fix something, they’ll raise the rent on us, $50 more every month — and we’ve lived here for 12 years. I’m ready for a house, and we just recently got our first chance to move and were going to use the stimulus money for the deposit, but now I feel like we won’t be able to.

My fiancé’s brother lives with us, and he got his stimulus check last week, but we haven’t gotten one. There’s three of us that live in the same house, and all three of us are on disability and Social Security. We don’t file taxes because we’re not required to, so we’re not doing anything wrong. I’ve tried to check on the IRS website, but since we’re both on social security, there’s no way to even check the website. They said it’ll be there when it’s there in our checking accounts, and until then we just have to wait.

For the last 10 years or so, I haven’t been able to work because I’ve had three brain surgeries. I have a cranial tube and shunt and a titanium plate in my head that keep me from working, and I’ve been on Social Security and disability ever since then. I’m healthy now, but I can never work again because if I get hit in the head, it could kill me.

Our lives are on hold. It feels really, really stressful. I’ve wanted to quit; I’ve wanted to go away. I already have really bad anxiety and depression, and I’m so stressed out — I just want it to stop. We have no security; we don’t have a savings account. We get paid once a month, and it takes everything that we get just to survive now. We don’t have extra money. We can’t go out and work.

It’s hard for me to be patient. I know the check is probably going to get here eventually, but with everything I’ve been through with life, it’s hard for me to do anything. I pray to God every day, let something be better, give us something to look forward to, not disappointment, not just more failure.

“We just got notice that our rent is going to be increased on the first of August”

Morgana Reed, 34, Salem, Oregon

I have five kids — ages 19, 16, 5, 3, and 2 — four of whom live at home. It’s been pretty difficult. Luckily, my husband, a pharmacy technician, has been considered an essential worker. He works at a pharmacy, but that’s still where all the sick people come to get their medicine. He’s working, at the very least, 12-hour days, five days a week, if not six days a week, with no hazard pay.

We still haven’t received any stimulus, and I have no idea why. I’ve gone on to the IRS website, and all it says is that our information doesn’t match anything, they have no information on file. It feels extremely frustrating, and once you’ve attempted to check it three times, it locks you out of the entire IRS website for 24 hours.

At this point, it feels completely up in the air whether we’re going to get any stimulus money at all. I’ve been wondering every day. We just got notice that our rent is going to be increased on the first of August, and so we were hoping to use the stimulus money to be able to move, and now we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to do that.

We have day-to-day essentials, like food, that we could be spending the money on, because my kids eat me out of house and home. Diapers as well, and laundry, which I have to pay for. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I do plenty of work, but I’m just not getting paid for it.

My 16-year-old has also been striving to graduate a year early from school, and this whole thing may have completely jeopardized that. Her scholarship was going to depend on it. The younger kids are confused — they don’t understand why we can’t go to the park, why they can’t come to the store or go shopping with me anymore, why they’re stuck at home all the time. Whenever we go to see family and try to leave, they start to panic right now because they just don’t get any outside stimulation.

I’ve seen a few people who have received their stimulus and it’s already gone. Some of the people that received it, it’s half of their monthly income, and they’re completely out of work too. My brother and my husband’s brother have both been laid off, and neither of them have seen their stimulus money either, and neither of them have been able to successfully get on unemployment. These are just crazy times. I’ve had to stop watching the news.

“My main complaint is still that if you look at any source of information, the IRS just kind of says, we don’t know”

Rodney Pierce, 20, Fort Washington, Maryland

I was working as a waiter at a restaurant out in DC and was recently laid off from my job, so I have no source of income right now.

I live with my parents, and I help them with rent. Right now everyone in the house except for my dad is currently stuck at home; I have a younger sister who was in school but she’s at home now too. My dad works for Costco, and he’s the only one who is still working right now. No one in my family has gotten a stimulus check yet.

Courtesy of Rodney Pierce

I’m not on disability, I’m not a college student, I’m listed as a dependent, so I should be getting one, but at the same time, nothing really points to it definitely happening. Everyone’s advice has been to go check the IRS website, and I’m still trying, but it’s not really showing any real signs of working. The IRS website is still saying that there’s no available information on file.

For the first month of the whole pandemic, while I was stuck in the house, I was doing esports as a side job. By no means is it a good source of income, but if I place in tournaments online, it can mean $30 a week or something around that range that could help with the Dollar Store or something like that.

I’ve been living with anxiety for a little under six years now, and right now my current situation with me not having a job and then with being laid off recently — more than anything, it’s kind of been a mental thing. The whole situation with me being kept in the dark and not really knowing if and when I’m going to get a check has been really tough on me.

I filed my [2019] taxes with TurboTax back in February, and I owed a fee to the state. At the time, I scheduled for the money to be taken in April, because none of us could’ve anticipated that this would happen. So right now I’m currently at negative $200, financially.

If I were to just not get a stimulus check, it would put me in a really tough position. Let’s say my restaurant opens back up, which, going off the news, seems like it’s not going to happen anytime soon. But if I do get my job back, how am I going to pay for transportation, how do I pay for food during lunch? So far, I haven’t been successful in getting unemployment benefits because I live in Maryland but I work in DC. I started my job in December, and one of the requirements for unemployment insurance is that I would’ve had to have been working for at least six months in DC.

I’ve been researching “stimulus check” on Twitter, and it just kind of doesn’t seem like any real pattern with who is missing their check, at least as far as I can tell. My main complaint is still that if you look at any source of information, the IRS just kind of says, we don’t know, you’re just out of luck.