Social Security Stimulus Check Delay Blamed on Lack of Staff Funding

Stimulus payment delays for millions who receive Social Security and other federal benefits were allegedly caused by a lack of staff funding, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration claims.

In a statement on Thursday, SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul said "despite the fact that Congress did not directly provide SSA funding to support our work on EIPs [Economic Stimulus Payments]... we have worked tirelessly with our counterparts at IRS to provide to them the information they need to issue payments to our beneficiaries."

On Thursday morning, two weeks after President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill was signed into law, the SSA provided the IRS with the paperwork needed for stimulus payments to be issued following pressure from the House Ways and Means committee.

In a letter sent to the SSA on Wednesday, the committee claimed "the IRS asked SSA to start sending payment files two weeks before the American Rescue Plan became law on March 11, 2021," noting the SSA still hadn't provided the IRS with the required payment files, as of Wednesday.

Saul stated on Thursday that the SSA was "not authorized to substantively engage [the] Treasury or IRS prior to the ARP's passage."

He explained that "the Social Security Act does not allow the agency to use our administrative appropriation to conduct work on any non-mission provision or program."

Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the committee said: "On background from a Committee aide, funds could not be directly appropriated because of the reconciliation process, but they were appropriated to Treasury with the intent that they would be distributed to SSA in a timely manner, so this line of defense doesn't hold.

"It inexplicably took two weeks for the transfer to happen after the American Rescue Plan was signed into law, which is a clear failure of leadership from SSA," the spokesperson added.

Saul said that "while we were working through the agreements with IRS that would fund our efforts to support issuance of EIPs," SSA employees "literally worked day and night with IRS staff to ensure that the electronic files of Social Security and SSI recipients are complete, accurate, and ready to be used to issue payments."

The commissioner claimed it was the efforts of the SSA "that successfully overcame the fact that the IRS did not have a mechanism to automatically identify Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.

"It was SSA that pushed the prior Administration and Congress to allow us to send to IRS a file of those individuals, who do not receive forms SSA-1099, so that IRS could automatically issue EIPs to them," the statement said.

In a statement on Thursday, Alex Lawson, the executive director of advocacy group Social Security Works, claimed that Saul and SSA Deputy Commissioner David Black, who were appointed by former president Donald Trump, "have been acting as his [Trump's] agents for years.

"They tried through rule changes to make it more difficult to qualify for and stay on Social Security disability benefits. Now, they are sabotaging the Biden administration by delaying relief checks," Lawson added.

The IRS and SSA have yet to provide an update on a timeline for when federal benefit recipients can expect to receive their stimulus payments.

Newsweek has contacted the IRS and SSA for comment.

Nearly 30 million recipients of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income were reported to be waiting to receive their stimulus payments, according to the House Ways and Means committee.

In a statement on Wednesday, the IRS said information on when stimulus payments for federal benefit recipients will be made would be provided "as soon as it becomes available."

These recipients would generally receive their stimulus funds in the "same way as their regular benefits," the IRS advised on Monday.

Federal aid funds are usually distributed via a Direct Express card account.

Updates from the IRS on the timing of stimulus payments "are expected soon," Direct Express said on Tuesday. "This includes information for Direct Express cardholders who didn't file a tax return in 2019 or 2020."

Only current Direct Express cardholders can receive their third stimulus payments on their cards. Those who don't have a card cannot sign up for one now to receive their stimulus payments, the company advised Tuesday.

Stimulus payments sent to Direct Express accounts that were recently closed or are no longer active "will be returned and the IRS will reissue the payment," it said.

To check the status of your stimulus payment, use the Get My Payment tool at the IRS website.

Social Security office California 2020
The exterior of a U.S. Social Security Administration building in Burbank, California, pictured on November 5, 2020 Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images