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A sign requiring face masks is seen at City Creek Center, March 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City.  (AP) A sign requiring face masks is seen at City Creek Center, March 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City.  (AP)

A sign requiring face masks is seen at City Creek Center, March 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde March 9, 2021

With Congress expected to finalize a $1.9 trillion package to help Americans recover from the coronavirus pandemic, many are left wondering if they will get a stimulus check, and if so, when and how much.

The relief package passed by the Senate is different from the version passed by the House in February. The House is expected to vote on the amended version this week. Democrats have promised to finalize the package before federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14. The proposal then heads to President Joe Biden so he can sign it into law.

"I will tell you that our focus right now is on getting this bill across the finish line, getting relief out to the American people, which we expect will happen by the end of the month," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said March 8.

Based on the timing of previous stimulus checks, it’s estimated that the IRS will begin issuing funds within days of the law’s enactment. Taxpayers will get their payment through a direct deposit to their bank account, a mailed check, or prepaid debit card.



Here’s what we know about eligibility for the direct payments.

What are the income caps?

Whether you are eligible for a direct payment, and how much, depends on the adjusted gross income you reported in the latest tax return you filed, either for 2019 or 2020. (Adjusted gross income is annual gross income minus certain deductions such as contributions to retirement accounts, alimony paid and educator expenses.)

Single tax return filers whose adjusted gross income was up to $75,000 are eligible for the full $1,400. A head of household whose adjusted gross income was up to $112,500 also gets the full amount. A couple who filed joint tax returns and had an adjusted gross income of up to $150,000 would get $2,800.

Taxpayers who meet those income criteria also get $1,400 per eligible dependent (including older children and adult dependents).

People who earned slightly more than the income caps still get a payment for themselves and their dependents, but not the full $1,400 per person. Single tax filers whose adjusted gross income was $80,000 or more, heads of household who earned $120,000 or more, and joint filers who earned $160,000 or more don’t get anything.

The Congressional Research Service says that the proposal gives the IRS broad authority to issue payments, based on information available to the Treasury, to eligible people who did not file tax returns for 2019 or 2020.

Do people who file tax returns using an ITIN get a payment?

No. People must have filed their tax returns using a Social Security number — not an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number — to be eligible for the stimulus payment.

ITINs are issued by the IRS to some foreign nationals and others who don’t have a Social Security number so they can pay income taxes. Some immigrants who are illegally in the country pay taxes using an ITIN.

If a taxpayer who meets the income criteria does not have a Social Security number, but has a dependent who does, then they would receive a payment only for the qualifying dependent, according to an analysis from the Congressional Research Service.

If a couple files a joint tax return — one using an ITIN and another using a Social Security number — only the spouse and dependents who have Social Security numbers are eligible for a payment. (Under the rules of the first stimulus check offered, U.S. citizens were ineligible for a check if they filed a joint tax return with a spouse who used an ITIN.)

As was the case with previous stimulus payments, when a married couple files a joint return and at least one spouse is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces during the tax year for which the return is filed, the full $2,800 credit is allowed (if they meet income criteria) even if only one spouse has a Social Security number.

Can incarcerated people get a check?

Yes, as was the case for the stimulus checks approved during the Trump administration.

The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit that advocates against mass incarceration, told PolitiFact that an amendment that would have withheld checks from people in state and federal prisons was voted down.

"I can't comment on how many people in prison will be eligible for the $1,400 checks under American Rescue Plan as passed by the Senate, as there may be disqualifying clauses that I haven't heard about yet," said Wanda Bertram, a communications strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) signed into law in March 2020 by then-President Donad Trump did not bar incarcerated people from getting stimulus checks. Soon after, however, the IRS said that any payment issued to incarcerated people should be returned. That prompted a class action lawsuit arguing that the IRS rule was arbitrary and unlawful.

A federal judge in October ruled that the law did not authorize the Trump administration to withhold stimulus checks from someone solely because of their incarceration. The judge ordered the federal government to disburse checks that had been withheld, intercepted or returned. The IRS then updated its website to note that the agency cannot deny a payment to someone who is incarcerated if they meet other eligibility criteria.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 signed into law in December by Trump also allowed incarcerated people to receive the second round of stimulus checks.

Do I have to pay taxes on the stimulus check?

No. The payments are not taxable. They also do not count as income when determining eligibility for or the amount of assistance provided by any federally funded public benefit program.

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