Most vulnerable population will have to wait 3 more weeks for $1,200 stimulus check
Puerto Rico Treasury secretary: IRS rejected recommendation to issue payments to retirees, Social Security beneficiaries directly
By Rafelli González Cotto
SAN JUAN — Despite the fact that about 230,000 taxpayers have already had the federal $1,200 coronavirus aid deposited in their bank accounts, the most vulnerable sectors of Puerto Rican society—retirees, Social Security recipients of and non-filers—will have to wait an additional three weeks to receive the stimulus check.
In an exclusive interview with Caribbean Business and CB en Español, the secretary of the Puerto Rico Treasury Department, Francisco Parés Alicea, revealed that unlike the special link on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) website for those who do not file tax returns, his department has been unable to program a similar link through the island Treasury’s Unified Internal Revenue System (SURI by its Spanish acronym).
The secretary hopes these groups will be able to receive the $1,200 stimulus payment established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act in the next three weeks.
Eventually, a form will be created in SURI for non-filers to provide their bank information so Treasury can deposit the stimulus payment without the need to create a personal account on the platform.
“In terms of expectations, I would have liked to be ready with programming, but there are operational realities that the IRS lived through, too; the IRS had the benefit of starting earlier. There are some issues of flow circulation, of claims processing, of verifying that the declaration is authentic, that make it operationally more difficult to be able to move ahead more than we have already have,” confessed Parés Alicea, who revealed his human side and some internal matters of the process for the $1,200 to reach the 2.5 million to 2.7 million people eligible to receive them.
Don’t you think that’s a long time to wait, the official was asked about the fact that the elderly who only benefit from pension and Social Security checks would be left to wait far more compared with the rest of the population.
“That is why we had asked the IRS to accept our recommendation that it be them directly [who would send the money], because they have more information than I have. That did not happen and, well, they had their minds made up from the beginning when they asked us in the plan why we had requested it that way,” the commonwealth Treasury official lamented.
However, Parés Alicea said he continues to negotiate with the Social Security Administration to have it provide certain information so that the island’s Treasury Department, known locally as Hacienda, can improve the reach of stimulus payment.
Hacienda seeks to reduce fraud
Aware of the technological limitations of senior citizens, who will be forced to depend on others to provide their banking information and receive the federal stimulus, the Treasury secretary gavee the following recommendations:
- Do not share any information with third parties until the fourth week of May, when the SURI website link will be ready.
- Delegate the process of filling out the application to people you trust.
- Communicate with Treasury over the phone and not reply to text messages claiming to be related to the department or other messaging applications, as they are not the official communication channels used by the agency.
- Discard any email that is not similar to email@example.com, as they are the addresses authorized to disseminate official information.
“In a similar way as the IRS did, it was essential for us to present an immediate remedy to those people who were most economically attacked by the epidemic, who are those productive people or whose jobs, due to social distancing practices, have found themselves unable to generate income,” Parés Alicea said.
“My mom is a Social Security beneficiary, she is part of the most vulnerable sectors in terms of the disease. However, financially, she has continued to receive her Social Security check. In general terms, my mother’s case is not the same as the case of a waiter in a restaurant who lost his job, who lives paycheck to paycheck and who does not receive any check,” he contrasted.
The Treasury chief also said there will soon exist an appeal-type claim process to resolve disputes that may arise regarding the amount of federal stimulus received. Complaints will be able to be filed via SURI and could trigger an administrative review process.
Discard the Fatmagül Novelas
Regarding the process that was carried out for Hacienda to get the U.S. Treasury to approve its disbursement plan for the largest transaction the agency has carried out, Parés Alicea rejected the “Fatmagül soap operas [the media] has wanted to air.”
“There may be a perception that we were very slow in some circumstances, but I have to say that I know the reality of the negotiation process, that I participated in it, that I look back and there was nothing we could do to make this happen faster. We did everything in our power at the time,” Parés Alicea said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Monday that he was pleased that the more than $2 billion needed to pay the federal stimulus to all eligible citizens had been disbursed to Hacienda and were being sent out.
“A month ago I questioned whether the department could operationally implement a $400 million payment in a single payroll. There are 230,000 families that got their payments, many of them on Saturday, and it is something that fills me with satisfaction. Yes, that during the process one receives criticism, of course, but I prefer to receive that criticism for mishaps that may occur during the process, which are totally remediable, than to have gone home that Friday and know that I had not done everything in my power for people to receive the payments immediately,” he concluded.
The secretary expects the second phase of the stimulus disbursement to begin Friday, starting with those who filed their 2019 return but that Hacienda does not have their bank information.
The taxpayers who have not filed the 2019 return but did 2018’s follow. In both cases, a link will be provided for taxpayers to include their bank information on the SURI page because the platform that has the 2018 information is different to the one currently used, Parés Alicea said.