May 1, 2020
The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin
U.S. Department of the Treasur
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20220
The Honorable Charles P. Rettig
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20224
Dear Secretary Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig,
I write to you as the Chairman of the National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent, nonpartisan federal agency with authority to advise the President, U.S. Congress, and federal agencies on matters affecting the lives of individuals with disabilities – with concerns and advice regarding the IRS’ deadlines for recipients of federal benefits with qualifying dependents to submit additional information to the IRS non-filer portal and regarding the mechanism by which individuals are currently constrained to submit this information.
First, I would first like to applaud your quick decisive action to distribute the initial $1,200 economic impact payments to recipients of federal benefits automatically, thus eliminating the unnecessary bureaucratic delay for low-income families. Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act with overwhelming bi-partisan support to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans. Congress understood the financial impact affecting low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic and instructed the Secretary to make these payments as rapidly as possible. Although people with disabilities make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. working-age population, they account for more than half of those living in poverty, so these payments are critically important in attempts to stabilize families of people with disabilities.
While I believe your intention in creating both the online portal for submitting additional information and the April 22nd and May 5th deadlines for individuals with qualifying beneficiaries to apply for the additional $500 benefit was driven by your intent to distribute these funds as soon as possible, there are several barriers that eligible people with disabilities are experiencing that I would like to bring to your attention.
NCD is concerned with the filing deadlines as well as the portal itself. NCD has heard from congressional offices who have heard from their constituents and from disability groups around the country who are concerned that many people with disabilities who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019 and have qualifying children need additional time to use the IRS online non-filer portal. I advise you to allow for eligible individuals to provide their additional information on an ongoing or rolling basis into the 2021 tax year and to create alternative non-web-based options for submitting information. This will allow the greatest amount of people intended to access these payments to do so and allow for time to address accessibility concerns with the portal.
Individuals with disabilities who are expressing concerns with the portal and the deadlines are individuals Congress intended to help. Some are low-vision or blind and make use of screen-reading software that may not be compatible with the online portal. Others may not have access to the internet at all. Still others have limited support services because of the pandemic and require assistance that they cannot currently access in order to comply with the requirement. Many are under the impression that after the May 5 deadline, the IRS non-filer deadline will not be available again until 2021. I do not believe it is your intent to delay the $500 benefit for qualifying children until next year as this would be inconsistent with congressional intent. However, there is rampant confusion and frustration, and a communication gap that needs address.
For that reason, finally, I advise that Treasury, the IRS, and SSA work quickly to develop and execute an outreach campaign targeting federal benefit recipients with disabilities with a plain language message of how and by when they must comply to make sure they have an opportunity to receive the full amount of the economic impact payment that Congress intended under the CARES Act. NCD and the disability community would gladly work with you to formulate a message and help disseminate. Due to the numerous factors preventing eligible individuals from using the IRS non-filer portal in a timely manner, at a minimum, I strongly urge you to eliminate the April 22nd and May 5th deadlines and communicate that cancellation broadly.
The NCD staff routinely assists federal agencies on policy matters affecting Americans with disabilities, and I welcome your staff to contact us to discuss non-web-based alternatives to the online non-filer portal as well as ways we might assist you in developing communication strategies to target people with disabilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage your staff to follow up Joan Durocher, Director of Policy and General Counsel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
cc: The Honorable Andrew Saul, Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration
 116 P.L. 136, Title II, Subtitle B, (1)(3)(a)-TIMING (emphasis added).