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Don't throw out $1,200, as stimulus payment may look like 'junk mail'

Economic stimulus checks are prepared for at the

Economic stimulus checks are prepared for at the Philadelphia Financial Center on May 8. Credit: Getty Images/Jeff Fusco

Some Americans who haven’t received their stimulus payments yet may receive them in the form of a debit card, but New Yorkers who have already received the card are raising concerns that the envelope could easily pass for junk mail that is tossed aside.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced on May 18 that about 4 million Americans who had yet to receive their payment would receive a government-backed debit card as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package approved by Congress known as the CARES Act.

Rene Hensley of Lindenhurst was among the recipients of the card known as the Economic Impact Payment (EIP) Card. Hensley said that at first glance the envelope he received looked like many of the credit card offers that arrive by mail that he often dismisses.

“It looked like junk mail. I wasn't even going to open it,” Hensley said. “Everybody's talking about a paper check, no one said some people were getting a debit card.”

The federal government first started issuing payments in April via direct deposit to taxpayers who had their bank information on file with the Internal Revenue Service. The agency then ramped up mailing out paper checks, but the debit cards were not introduced as an option until a month later.

An aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his office has fielded several calls from Long Islanders confused about the debit cards, which are being administered by MetaBank, a private firm contracted by the Treasury Department. The cards require recipients to register the card online or via phone, and have some fees attached for use including $7 for a replacement card and $0.25 to view the balance on the card.

“Even one Long Islander confused by these debit cards and unable to access their stimulus dollars is one too many,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “We can’t have critical stimulus funds arriving and looking like junk mail. That helps no one. Treasury needs to get the word out about how these are being sent, ensure the intended recipient can access the money, and swiftly replace any that might have been accidentally discarded.”

Hensley said he believes his 94-year-old mother threw away her card.

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Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) was among seven Democrats on the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee who issued a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday calling for more information on how many cards have been distributed. The letter cites reports that "indicate the cards are creating confusion and actually may delay when Americans receive this emergency assistance."

Treasury Department spokeswoman Monica Crowley in a Friday tweet noted that the cards "come in a plain white envelope to guard against fraud. If you lost or threw away your EIP card call 1-800-240-8100 for a FREE replacement (option 2 from main menu)."

The Treasury Department in a statement said the cards are being sent to taxpayers who do not have bank information on file with the Internal Revenue Service, and who have had previous tax returns processed by the IRS Service Centers in Andover, Massachusetts, or Austin, Texas.

The two centers primarily process tax returns from Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, U.S. territories, military addresses, and Americans living abroad in foreign countries, according to the Treasury Department website, but it’s possible some of the New York recipients had their returns processed by the Andover or Austin centers, said a Schumer aide.

To avoid potential scams, recipients are asked to visit eipcard.com for more information about activating the card.

For those still waiting for their stimulus payments, the Treasury Department has said it could take until September for all payments to be dispersed to the more than 150 million Americans eligible for some form of payment. The agency so far has sent payments to 130 million individuals.

Individuals earning up to $75,000 stand to receive a $1,200 payment, with the amount of money gradually declining for higher-income earners.

With the May 13 deadline to file direct deposit information with the IRS passed, IRS officials said recently the agency will “sharply increase” the number of paper checks being sent to the remaining Americans who haven’t received their payments. The agency said more paper checks “will begin arriving through late May and into June.”

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