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Aggressive State Outreach Can Help Reach the 12 Million Non-Filers Eligible for Stimulus Payments

About 12 million Americans risk missing out on the stimulus payments provided through the recent CARES Act because they, unlike millions of people who are receiving the payments automatically from the IRS, must file a form by November 21 to receive it this year, or file a 2020 tax return next year to receive it in 2021. (This estimate, based on CBPP analysis of Census data, is approximate; please see Appendix II for our methodology.)[1] This group includes very low-income families with children, people who have been disconnected from work opportunities for a long period, and many low-income adults not raising children in their home.

Governors and other state officials can play a central role in reaching these 12 million individuals, up to 9 million of whom — roughly 3 in 4 — participate in SNAP (formerly food stamps) or Medicaid, which states and counties administer.[2]

This group of non-filers eligible for payments are disproportionately people of color because they are likelier to have lower incomes due to historical racism and ongoing bias and discrimination. Twenty-seven percent of the 9 million people are Black — higher than their share of the U.S. population (12 percent) — while another 19 percent are Latino. Ensuring that low-income people of color receive the payments for which they qualify is especially important given emerging evidence that they are being hit hardest by both the economic and health effects of the pandemic.

The IRS, working with the Social Security Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Railroad Retirement Board, has been automatically delivering the CARES Act stimulus payments (technically called Economic Impact Payments or EIPs) to tens of millions of people who regularly file federal income taxes or receive certain federally administered benefits, such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Railroad Retirement, or Veterans Affairs pension or disability benefits. Eligible adults receive $1,200 plus $500 for each eligible child.

But the automatic payment method misses about 12 million people — adults and children — because they aren’t required to file federal income tax returns due to their low incomes and they do not participate in one of those specified, federally administered programs.[3] Together, these people are eligible to receive $12 billion in payments. (See Table 1 for state-by-state estimates.)

To receive the payments this year, these individuals must provide their information to the IRS no later than October 15 through a 2019 tax return or by November 21 when using the IRS “Non-Filer” tool, a simplified online form for people not required to file a tax return.[4] The tool requires a user to create an online account, enter certain personal information (including direct deposit information, if available), verify their email address, and submit the form. The IRS plans to issue all payments before the December 31, 2020 deadline in the CARES Act.

An aggressive outreach program is needed at the state and local levels to inform eligible individuals, who by definition have very low incomes, that they are eligible and to help them undertake the required steps. Such outreach efforts will benefit both individuals and communities. The payments are considerable, both for the recipients and by other standards of assistance; in some states, the amount of money at stake is as much as ten times the state’s total annual cash assistance to families with children. These funds would go to extremely low-income individuals and families at a time when need is rising due to the pandemic. And ensuring these people apply for and receive the payments for which they qualify will also benefit local and state economies, in which much of the money will be spent.

“About 12 million Americans risk missing out on the stimulus payments provided through the recent CARES Act because they must file a form by October 15 to receive it.”Governors and other state officials can play a vital role in reaching the 12 million eligible people. The health and human services agencies that administer SNAP and Medicaid are uniquely positioned to reach, using established communication channels, the subgroup of 9 million people who participate in those two programs. Governors and state agencies can also do much to reach the other 3 million eligible people, who generally do not receive state or federal benefits. Public education efforts and partnerships with key stakeholder groups, such as service providers for people experiencing homelessness, will be critical to connecting people to the $1,200 payments.

In addition, if federal policymakers issue additional stimulus payments to boost economic demand and reduce hardship, state efforts now to connect eligible low-income individuals with the tax system should pay dividends in helping these people access any future rounds of payments.

Background on Stimulus Payments

The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, includes stimulus payments to support overall consumer demand amidst historic job losses and business closures and to help families deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. The payments are designed to be significant — $1,200 per adult ($2,400 for a married couple) and $500 per dependent child — and broad-based; unlike the payments provided during the Great Recession,[5] they are available to people with the lowest incomes. Moreover, there is no earnings test, so people with zero earnings are eligible for the full amounts. The payments begin phasing out at incomes of $150,000 for married couples, $112,500 for heads of households, and $75,000 for singles. Unfortunately, the law unreasonably excludes certain groups from the payments. Immigrant families (except for certain military families) are ineligible if any adult or spouse (if filing jointly) lacks a Social Security number. Also ineligible are 17-year-olds, college students whom their parents can claim as dependents, and adult dependents.

To deliver these payments to the nation’s roughly 300 million eligible people, policymakers chose the IRS, which has contact with a large share of the population. The payments, therefore, are designed as a tax credit. They are “fully refundable,” meaning that eligible households receive the full amount regardless of what — if anything — they pay in federal income tax. Importantly, because the country is in the middle of a crisis, the law instructs the Secretary of the Treasury (who oversees the IRS) to deliver the payments “as rapidly as possible.”

The IRS, working with other agencies, has been delivering the payments using a generally step-by-step approach, starting with payments to the people easiest to reach. First up were people who filed federal income tax returns in 2018 or 2019 and for whom the IRS had direct deposit information. Then, the IRS began working with the Social Security Administration and the Railroad Retirement Board to automatically deliver payments to retirees and persons with disabilities who receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits but do not typically file tax returns. Next up for automatic payments were recipients of SSI or veterans’ pension or disability benefits who do not file tax returns.

For these groups, the process of delivering payments has gone relatively smoothly, especially considering the depleted state of the IRS after nearly a decade of funding cuts.[6] The challenge now is to ensure that the remaining 12 million people, who neither file federal income tax returns nor receive certain federal benefits, receive the payments for which they are eligible “as rapidly as possible,” as the law mandates. In addition to developing the “Non-Filer” tool described above for people who don’t typically file tax returns, the IRS has expanded its outreach efforts beyond its usual partners to reach non-filers with low incomes and those in the military, veteran, and homeless communities.[7] But many non-filers are not connected to traditional channels of information and are likely to miss out on payments without additional efforts.

Remaining 12 Million Eligible People Have Very Low Incomes

By definition, the estimated 12 million people not receiving payments automatically have very low incomes because they aren’t required to file federal income tax returns.[8] Only people with annual income above the following levels have a legal obligation to file a return for 2020: $12,400 for singles, $18,650 for heads of household (such as a single parent with children), and $24,800 for married couples.[9] (Many people with incomes below those thresholds do file federal income tax returns in order to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit [EITC] or Child Tax Credit. Low-income families with children have an incentive to file a return to claim these tax credits, as do adults not raising children in their homes, though to a lesser degree.[10])

The 12 million group is predominantly non-elderly. Many senior citizens are receiving automatic payments because they receive Social Security, Railroad Retirement, SSI, or veterans’ pensions or disability benefits. Up to 1 million seniors, though, may be eligible for payments but do not receive them automatically.

The outstanding payments amount to roughly $12 billion nationally, which — if delivered and spent — would not only reduce hardship but also give state and local economies a much-needed boost.

SNAP and Medicaid Agencies Can Reach About 9 Million Eligible People Not Receiving Automatic Payments

We estimate that approximately 9 million of the 12 million people who won’t automatically receive the payments receive state- or county-administered benefits such as SNAP or Medicaid, a fact that underscores the key role for state government in reaching this group. (See Figure 1.) They have low incomes and are among those who most need the payments to cover essential expenses. The payments for which they qualify, worth a combined $9 billion, represent a significant sum both individually and collectively. In Alabama and North Carolina, for example, their payments total an estimated $209 million and $324 million, respectively, or nine to ten times the amount of basic cash assistance those states provide annually through their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs ($20 million and $37 million), our estimates suggest.[11]

While many SNAP and Medicaid recipients file federal income tax returns and hence will receive their payments automatically, state agencies are the primary organizations able to reach those who don’t file.[12] State agencies are uniquely placed to use existing contact information to alert eligible people about the payments and connect them with services to help them obtain their payment.[13]

As state agencies reach out to the 9 million people, the following groups would be useful targets for outreach efforts:

  • Very low-income children. About 3.2 million of the 9 million people — that is, more than one-third — are under age 17, which exceeds their share of the U.S. population overall (22 percent).[14] (See Figure 2.) Roughly 1 in 5 of the households that include these children participate in TANF as well as SNAP and/or Medicaid.
  • Adults not raising children in their home. More than 40 percent of the 9 million people are adults without children under age 17. Roughly one-quarter of these childless adults are themselves under age 25, and could include youth aging out of foster care, low-income students, and others struggling to get by on their own. Another third of these childless adults are between 50 and 65, and might include people with limited job skills or disabilities.
  • People of color. Twenty-seven percent of the 9 million people are Black — higher than their share of the U.S. population (12 percent) — while another 19 percent are Latino. Forty-eight percent are non-Latino white, making them the largest single racial-ethnic group, but this share is lower than in the U.S. population (61 percent). Ensuring that low-income people of color receive the payments for which they qualify is especially important given emerging evidence that they are being hit hardest by both the economic and the health effects of the pandemic.[15]
  • People with lower education levels. Some 19 percent of the 9 million people have no family member with a high school degree, almost three times the rate in the general population. People with less education are among those especially vulnerable during the current crisis: almost half of people with a high school degree or less have had someone in their household lose a job or hours due to the pandemic, and two-thirds report having insufficient savings to cover three months of bills and expenses in an emergency.[16]
  • People lacking secure housing. Many individuals who do not have permanent housing have very low incomes and are likely to be among the non-filer population.

Table 1 gives state-by-state estimates of the number of individuals among the 9 million non-filers who receive SNAP and/or Medicaid, and the resulting funds that would flow into state economies if payments reached all of them. (Appendix Table 1 shows state-by-state estimates of the number of individuals and the payment amounts among the 12 million non-filers. Appendix Table 2 shows more detailed state-by-state estimates of the subgroup of roughly 6.5 million SNAP recipients who were likely missed by automatic payments.)

Estimated Adults and Children Missed by Automatic Payments Who Receive SNAP and/or Medicaid Benefits
  Total individuals Potential total payments (in millions of dollars)
United States 9,270,000 $9,000
Alabama 220,000 $209
Alaska 26,000 $24
Arizona 200,000 $198
Arkansas 110,000 $101
California 1,082,000 $1,035
Colorado * *
Connecticut * *
Delaware 27,000 $28
District of Columbia 35,000 $35
Florida 750,000 $742
Georgia 383,000 $365
Hawaii 33,000 $33
Idaho * *
Illinois 312,000 $309
Indiana 162,000 $146
Iowa * *
Kansas * *
Kentucky 171,000 $162
Louisiana 233,000 $ 221
Maine * *
Maryland * *
Massachusetts 159,000 $158
Michigan 308,000 $293
Minnesota * *
Mississippi 145,000 $133
Missouri 143,000 $140
Montana 19,000 $18
Nebraska * *
Nevada 87,000 $83
New Hampshire * *
New Jersey 186,000 $182
New Mexico 105,000 $101
New York 625,000 $616
North Carolina 340,000 $324
North Dakota 16,000 $15
Ohio 394,000 $358
Oklahoma 130,000 $126
Oregon 118,000 $113
Pennsylvania 363,000 $337
Rhode Island 30,000 $31
South Carolina 213,000 $194
South Dakota 27,000 $24
Tennessee 215,000 $ 213
Texas 685,000 $624
Utah * *
Vermont 14,000 $13
Virginia 191,000 $177
Washington 185,000 $179
West Virginia 100,000 $94
Wisconsin * *
Wyoming * *

* Sample size too small. See the Appendix tables for other state-by-state estimates. Source: CBPP analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 2015-2017, with corrections for underreported SNAP and SSI from the Department of Health and Human Services/Urban Institute Transfer Income Model (TRIM).

While the 9 million people receiving SNAP and/or Medicaid will be the easiest for states to reach, 3 million other people eligible for payments may be outside the reach of SNAP and Medicaid state agencies. More than half of them are non-elderly adults not raising children at home.[17] Though some may receive other state- or locally administered benefits or be connected to community-based organizations, overall this group tends to be less connected to services and can include people experiencing job or earnings loss, housing insecurity, or homelessness.

Payments for This Group Can Provide Effective Economic Stimulus

The CARES Act payments are a key pillar of the federal fiscal stimulus measures designed both to help families cope with the loss of jobs and income in the pandemic and to offset the strong downward pressure on the overall economy. The payments for the 12 million people at risk of missing out on them would be particularly effective in boosting economic activity because these individuals have very low incomes and tend to live close to the edge, spending (rather than saving) any additional money they receive. High-income people, in contrast, tend not to live paycheck to paycheck and save at relatively high levels.

Payments to very low-income people are among the most effective ways to stimulate the economy during a recession, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis issued during the Great Recession found.[18] CBO estimated that a tax cut for high-income people would yield 20 to 60 cents of economic activity (measured by gross domestic product) for every dollar of cost, because relatively few of those recipients would spend the money. By contrast, a tax cut for low- and moderate-income people would generate 60 cents to $1.50 of economic activity per dollar of tax cut. CBO also estimated that an added dollar of SNAP or unemployment insurance would generate 80 cents to $2.10 in economic activity; these types of stimulus are so effective because both groups tend to be highly cash-constrained. The 12 million eligible people discussed in this report are arguably even more cash-constrained, so delivering payments to this group would be extremely effective stimulus.

Governors and State SNAP, Medicaid Agencies Have Key Role

Governors and state agencies that administer SNAP and Medicaid can play a central role in raising awareness about the payments and connecting non-filers with assistance in getting them. Governors can direct agencies to use available resources to identify individuals eligible for the payments and provide support to help this vulnerable group apply. They also can use their leadership positions to educate the public and organize statewide outreach efforts; governors have led many past outreach efforts, such as campaigns to promote federal tax refunds, children’s health care coverage, and immunization campaigns. Governors can drive such efforts through their chief-executive authority, their convening power, and by leveraging their ability to drive significant earned and unearned media interest (that is, through traditional press stories and paid advertising). In states that administer SNAP and/or Medicaid at the county level, county leaders can play a similar role.

State agencies administering SNAP and Medicaid also can help identify people eligible for the payments and educate them about their eligibility and how to claim the funds. Though many of these agencies face overwhelming workloads now, incorporating this outreach into their regular activities would yield a high impact at relatively low cost. These agencies have daily contact with program participants by phone, in person, or in writing.

Many states have online portals where SNAP or Medicaid recipients can manage their benefits or report changes; 17 states have already posted to their websites basic information about the payments and how to apply (see Appendix III), and other states could as well.[19] For example, states can link to the IRS website and its online form for non-filers to complete in order to receive their payment. States also can provide educational and outreach materials to other government and nonprofit service providers. Some states provide application kiosks and staff to assist applicants in their office lobbies. While most state health and human services offices are currently closed, as they reopen they could provide access to the IRS Non-Filer form, as well.

Moreover, state agencies have contact information for program participants and have many opportunities for direct communication with those potentially eligible. They are in direct written contact through text, email, and regular mail regarding the participants’ SNAP or Medicaid benefits and could insert information about how to apply for the payments with those routine communications. (For example, in an email to 93,000 individuals in households participating in SNAP and TANF about the availability of free tax preparation services through VITA, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and the Department of Social Services included information about the EIP.) Agencies are also routinely in contact with some participants over the phone, particularly through their call centers. Some of the eligible group will have in-depth interactions with these agencies; for example, a large majority of families participating in state cash assistance programs will likely be in touch with their caseworker over the summer months to renew their benefits or address other issues. This type of interaction represents an excellent opportunity for the state to explain a family’s potential eligibility for the payment and help them apply.

Millions of other individuals contact states via phone or the internet every day. While waiting on hold at a call center or conducting business online, they could receive information about the payments and how non-filers can apply. Local human services offices generally inform their eligibility workers and call center staff about other community resources available to families, such as local food banks and other community-based resources, and states could include information about the payments in their materials for eligibility workers so they can provide accurate information.

To contact some non-filers who might not be connected to SNAP or Medicaid, such as very low-income adults without children and people who lack secure housing (including those who are homeless), state agencies can also ask their contracted service providers and other community partners to reach out. The combined efforts of state and community organizations can vastly increase the number of eligible people who actually receive their payments.

Governors and state agencies can also help potentially eligible non-filers connect with third-party organizations that can help them apply accurately and free of charge. Unscrupulous entities and individuals may try to scam individuals out of their payment; states can use their communication networks to help push against these fraudulent efforts and direct eligible individuals to trusted helpers and to correct information.

Community-Based Organizations and Local Officials Also Vital

Community-based organizations and local officials can also play a vital role in helping connect non-filers to economic impact payments. Both serve as essential outreach channels for the EITC and other public awareness campaigns. Community organizations such as community action agencies, faith-based organizations, and religious institutions are connected to many of the 3 million non-filers who don’t participate in SNAP or Medicaid, so they are key avenues for outreach. In addition, organizations providing critical services such as food banks and health care likely interact with harder-to-reach populations that state agencies and other outreach channels may miss. Some community-based organizations have staff who can help people complete the IRS Non-Filer form, which is especially valuable for people without internet access.

Local officials have established platforms they can use to share information about the payments and how to get them. Mayors and city, county, and town officials are attuned to the needs of their communities and are already working to address challenges that non-filers may face, including homelessness, language barriers, and lack of internet access. Local officials have connections with various entities that can disseminate information, such as school districts and utility companies. In addition to publicizing information about the payments, local officials can help inform people of local sources for help from community organizations.

Assistance in Accessing Payments Can Increase Receipt

To receive a payment this year, individuals not receiving a federally administrated benefit must provide their information to the IRS no later than October 15 if filing a tax return or by November 21 if using the simplified IRS online form for people who aren’t required to file a tax return, known as the “Non-Filer” tool.[20] The tool requires a user to create an online account, enter personal information (including direct deposit information, if available), verify their email address, and submit the form. Some individuals who do not typically file a return may find this process hard to complete without assistance even during normal times, and especially during a pandemic.

While the simplified form requires much less information than filing a full tax return, individuals must have internet access, an email address, a direct deposit account or an address to which the payment can be delivered, and facility with the online form and account. For individuals with little or no income, disabilities, or limited contact with public agencies, any of these elements may be challenging.


Normally, agencies could direct people to free taxpayer assistance services such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites for help. With most VITA sites closed due to COVID-19, some are offering online services to low-income taxpayers during the pandemic to help filers and non-filers navigate their IRS requirements. Since the IRS is not currently processing paper tax returns, all non-filers will have to submit their information electronically in order to receive their payment in a timely manner. Many non-filers will need help from agencies or these online tax assistance services to submit complete and accurate tax forms and avoid delays with their payment.

The most expedient way to receive a payment is through direct deposit to a bank account, a financial payment app (such as Venmo, PayPal, or Cash App), or a prepaid debit card. When individuals include their direct deposit information on their simplified form, the IRS typically delivers the payment within one to two weeks if no errors arise with the routing information. For individuals for whom the IRS does not receive direct deposit information the IRS will mail a paper check or, in some cases, a prepaid debit card.[21]

Many non-filers may need assistance establishing a bank account or an alternative account that can receive direct deposits. An estimated 14 percent of people with incomes below $40,000 are “unbanked” (meaning they lack a checking, savings, or money market account), and the share is likely even higher among non-filers who do not regularly receive federal benefit payments.[22] Bank accounts through certain institutions can be opened online. Several financial apps also address this gap and provide avenues for people to receive direct deposits to their account within the app.

Appendix I

Appendix Table 1 displays state-by-state estimates of the 12 million people eligible for payments based on nationally representative survey data. See Appendix II for more detail.

Estimated Adults and Children Missed by Automatic Payments
  Total individuals Potential total payments (in millions of dollars)
United States 12,399,000 $12,000
Alabama 267,000 $264
Alaska 32,000 $31
Arizona 267,000 $274
Arkansas 143,000 $137
California 1,484,000 $1,499
Colorado 152,000 $160
Connecticut 108,000 $109
Delaware 34,000 $37
District of Columbia 46,000 $47
Florida 991,000 $1,017
Georgia 505,000 $506
Hawaii 50,000 $53
Idaho 42,000 $44
Illinois 392,000 $401
Indiana 214,000 $206
Iowa 64,000 $65
Kansas 100,000 $103
Kentucky 209,000 $206
Louisiana 303,000 $302
Maine * *
Maryland 147,000 $157
Massachusetts 223,000 $232
Michigan 369,000 $361
Minnesota 122,000 $127
Mississippi 185,000 $180
Missouri 197,000 $202
Montana 25,000 $25
Nebraska * *
Nevada 112,000 $112
New Hampshire * *
New Jersey 276,000 $287
New Mexico 124,000 $124
New York 814,000 $834
North Carolina 471,000 $474
North Dakota 24,000 $24
Ohio 489,000 $466
Oklahoma 165,000 $166
Oregon 158,000 $159
Pennsylvania 449,000 $438
Rhode Island 37,000 $39
South Carolina 273,000 $262
South Dakota 34,000 $32
Tennessee 280,000 $288
Texas 1,024,000 $1,010
Utah 57,000 $58
Vermont 17,000 $16
Virginia 321,000 $326
Washington 228,000 $228
West Virginia 115,000 $112
Wisconsin 140,000 $142
Wyoming 16,000 $16

*Sample size too small.

Source: CBPP analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 2015-2017, with corrections for underreported SNAP and Supplemental Security IncomeSSI from the Department of Health and Human Services/Urban Institute Transfer Income Model (TRIM).

Appendix Table 2 displays state-by-state estimates of the subgroup of the 9 million people eligible for payments who receive SNAP (whether or not they receive Medicaid) based on administrative data.

Estimated People Missed By Automatic Payments Who Receive SNAP Benefits
  Households Individuals Potential value of payments
  Total Total Under 17 years In millions of dollars
United States 3,270,000 6,534,000 3,024,000 $5,700
Alabama 45,500 99,600 47,700 $86
Alaska 7,900 17,700 7,700 $16
Arizona 68,500 133,000 56,300 $120
Arkansas 20,800 46,800 23,500 $40
California 543,600 1,095,100 548,900 $930
Colorado 35,200 78,700 42,200 $65
Connecticut 39,100 65,400 22,800 $63
Delaware 11,300 22,800 11,100 $20
District of Columbia 13,200 23,500 9,300 $22
Florida 245,800 437,400 184,000 $396
Georgia 151,800 330,400 158,500 $286
Hawaii 12,100 22,800 9,500 $21
Idaho 7,300 18,800 10,800 $15
Illinois 172,000 315,900 129,200 $289
Indiana 34,600 79,200 39,900 $67
Iowa 26,300 55,600 27,900 $47
Kansas 9,100 21,600 11,800 $18
Kentucky 49,700 95,900 36,400 $90
Louisiana 48,300 113,300 60,400 $94
Maine 6,900 14,900 6,900 $13
Maryland 67,300 121,800 50,000 $111
Massachusetts 56,100 108,200 48,200 $96
Michigan 93,500 159,100 53,100 $154
Minnesota 26,100 49,500 27,100 $40
Mississippi 41,600 88,800 40,800 $78
Missouri 38,400 86,300 45,700 $72
Montana 5,100 11,600 5,400 $10
Nebraska 9,600 20,900 11,000 $17
Nevada 38,300 69,700 28,400 $64
New Hampshire 4,400 9,900 4,900 $8
New Jersey 66,800 139,800 76,800 $114
New Mexico 27,000 56,800 25,200 $51
New York 188,600 351,200 152,500 $315
North Carolina 120,900 241,400 110,200 $213
North Dakota 3,400 8,400 4,400 $7
Ohio 92,900 179,800 78,100 $161
Oklahoma 31,100 74,000 38,200 $62
Oregon 50,600 92,700 34,400 $87
Pennsylvania 105,500 211,700 95,200 $187
Rhode Island 11,200 19,900 7,700 $18
South Carolina 58,500 134,200 68,900 $113
South Dakota 5,500 13,900 7,600 $11
Tennessee 80,700 161,400 70,100 $145
Texas 290,500 610,000 300,700 $521
Utah 13,900 33,200 18,600 $27
Vermont 2,500 5,100 2,300 $4
Virginia 53,000 126,000 65,700 $105
Washington 68,900 118,800 47,100 $110
West Virginia 25,100 50,800 20,600 $47
Wisconsin 34,800 67,800 28,500 $61
Wyoming 1,800 4,700 2,500 $4

Source: CBPP analysis of USDA SNAP Household Characteristics data for fiscal years 2016-2018.

Note: We estimate that about 12 million people will be missed by automatic payments; of these, about 9 million people receive SNAP and/or Medicaid. The figures shown here represent the subgroup of the 9 million who receive SNAP, whether or not they receive Medicaid.

Appendix II: Estimating the Outreach Population for Economic Impact Payments

Table 1 in this paper and Appendix Table 1 both rely on nationally representative survey data to estimate the number of individuals eligible for Economic Impact Payments while excluding those likely to receive those payments automatically because they filed federal income taxes[23] or participate in federal benefit programs (Social Security, Railroad Retirement, SSI, or veterans’ pensions or disability benefits). The estimates are approximate and are affected by underreporting of income and benefits, recent changes in program participation, and other data limitations.

Data reflect the population, economy, and program participation patterns of 2015 through 2017 and are from CBPP’s analysis of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement, adjusted to correct for underreporting of SNAP and SSI participation in the CPS using baseline data from the Transfer Income Model Version 3 (TRIM 3). TRIM 3 is developed and maintained by the Urban Institute with primary funding from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (HHS/ASPE). To improve the reliability of the state estimates, we average together three years of data (2015 through 2017), the most recent available from TRIM. We exclude immigrant families likely to be ineligible due to lacking a Social Security number.

Our SNAP results in Appendix Table 2 are from CBPP’s analysis of USDA SNAP household characteristics data for fiscal years 2016-2018. Because of data limitations (SNAP records do not include annual income or tax filing status), we limit the sample to those making less than the tax filing threshold on a monthly basis and exclude those who might qualify for the EITC or Child Tax Credit based on earnings, monthly income, age, and family composition; we also exclude family members of certain SNAP-ineligible immigrants who didn’t report a Social Security number. To err on the conservative side, the figures exclude families that receive SNAP for less than 12 months because such families are especially likely to have worked and earned more in the months before entering the program, and thus to have filed taxes for the year. The figures also (conservatively) exclude families where any family member received Social Security, SSI, or veterans’ pensions or disability benefits.

Appendix III: Resources

Federal Agency Information

National Organization Information:

State health and human service agency information (examples):

End Notes

[1] These estimates are affected by underreporting of income and benefits, recent changes in program participation, and other data limitations.

[2] We focus on SNAP and Medicaid because they are the two programs with the broadest eligibility and enrollment and with funding structures that allow them to serve all eligible persons who apply. Many people eligible for the stimulus payments who are enrolled in SNAP and/or Medicaid also participate in other state-operated programs, most notably cash assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

[3] The IRS issued over 159 million payments to households as of June 3, which includes both automatic payments and payments to people who provided their information through the Non-filer form. Our estimate of 12 million people refers to those who did not qualify for an automatic payment from the IRS. Some of these 12 million people may have directly provided their information to the IRS after learning about their eligibility for the payment and already received their payment as a result. Nevertheless it remains that up to 12 million people risk missing out if they don’t fill out the Non-filer form by November 21.

[4] Internal Revenue Service, “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here,” updated May 18, 2020,

[5] Internal Revenue Service, “Economic Stimulus Payments On The Way; Some People Will See Direct Deposit Payments Today,” April 28, 2008,

[6] Samantha Washington, “IRS Stimulus Glitches Show Cost of Earlier Cuts,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, April 28, 2020,

[7] Charles Rettig, “A message from the Commissioner – Economic Impact Payments: IRS helping 150 million Americans one payment at a time,” Internal Revenue Service, April 14, 2020,

[8] An early, tentative estimate by the New America Foundation found that 6 million people would miss out on automatic payments because they aren’t required to file tax returns. Estimating this population is difficult and, as the New America authors acknowledge, estimates are subject to uncertainty. Tara Dawson McGuinness and Gabriel Zucker, “Congress Appropriated $300 Billion in Relief Payments to Individuals and Families – but Poor Delivery May Prevent Tens of Millions of Americans from Ever Accessing Them,” New America, April 8, 2020,

[9] People with self-employment income greater than $400 are also required to file tax returns.

[10] Nina Olson, “Earned Income Tax Credit: Making the EITC Work for Taxpayers and the Government,” Internal Revenue Service: National Taxpayer Advocate, June 2019, Our 12 million estimate excludes people who likely qualify for these credits.

[11] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “State Fact Sheets: How States Spend Funds Under the TANF Block Grant,” updated February 25, 2020,

[12] SNAP and Medicaid know which of their participants have income through Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs, and the Railroad Retirement Board and therefore are likely receiving their payment automatically. They will not know which households are receiving the payment because the household filed a federal tax return in one of the last two years.

[13] Because SNAP and Medicaid assistance units don’t align precisely with tax filing units (that is, people who appear on the same tax return), agency efforts may reach people in multiple tax units, with each tax unit eligible for a payment. For example, a SNAP household might include a mother and child who are doubled up in the same apartment with the grandmother and an elderly aunt. This household could represent three tax filing units — each eligible for a payment — but just one SNAP household if the four individuals purchase and prepare food together.

[14] These children may include dependents of people who received automatic payments. Adult recipients of Social Security, Railroad Retirement, SSI, and veterans’ pension or disability benefits received a payment for themselves but have to file a 2020 tax return to receive the additional $500 for their dependent, where applicable.

[15] Kim Parker, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, and Anna Brown, “About Half of Lower-Income Americans Report Household Job or Wage Loss Due to COVID-19,” Pew Research Center, April 21, 2020,; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups,” updated April 22, 2020,

[16] Parker, Menasce Horowitz, and Brown, op. cit.

[17] Some childless adults whom our estimates classify as not participating in SNAP may now participate because the program’s three-month time limit for adults aged 18-50 who aren’t employed or raising minor children has temporarily been suspended during the public health emergency. See Ed Bolen, “Unemployed Workers Can Get SNAP During Health Emergency,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, April 2, 2020,

[18] All multipliers from Congressional Budget Office, “Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output From April 2010 Through June 2010,” August 2010, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent estimates find that every dollar in new SNAP benefits spent when the economy is weak and unemployment is elevated would increase gross domestic product by $1.54. See Patrick Canning and Rosanna Mentzer Morrison, “Quantifying the Impact of SNAP Benefits on the U.S. Economy and Jobs,” USDA, Economic Research Service, July 18, 2019,

[20] Internal Revenue Service, “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here,” updated May 18, 2020, People who miss the October. 15 deadline can also file a 2020 tax return (in early 2021) to receive the payment next year.

[21] Department of the Treasury, “Treasury is Delivering Millions of Economic Impact Payments by Prepaid Debit Card,” May 18, 2020,

[22] Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019, Featuring Supplemental Data from April 2020,” May 2020,

[23] The CPS does not ask respondents about their income taxes, but the Census Bureau estimates taxes and tax filing status from survey data on income, age, and family relationship. We start with Census tax status indictors and modify them to include additional potential tax dependents not captured in the Census tax model. For example, we count elderly parents who live with their higher-earning children as dependents if they meet IRS dependency rules. Also, when college students live with no family members, we assume their parents claim them as dependents if the students are under age 24, attend school full time, and have income below $4,150 in 2018 dollars. These adjustments raise the estimated number of filers, spouses, and dependents in tax year 2017 from 286 million using Census’ tax indicators to 291 million, which is closer to the actual figure of 293 million listed by IRS ( The remaining persons — that is, those not considered to be a tax filer, spouse, or dependent, totaling 31.7 million in the CPS data for 2017 — are the non-filing population. Of those, an estimated 12 million are eligible for Economic Impact Payments and we consider them the outreach population.

As a check, we modeled the outreach population in another Census survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which has better data on which college students can be claimed as dependents (as well as on certain other elements of the calculation, such as immigration status and who receives Social Security benefits). Those calculations also show about 12 million people in the outreach population nationwide in 2016.