Send People Checks. Make It Simple. Do It Now.

Dear Chairman Hinds, Chairman Cusack, and Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue:

Progressive Massachusetts is a statewide, grassroots advocacy group with 16 chapters across the state committed to working toward the goals of equity, justice, democracy, and sustainability.

We are writing today to urge you to give a favorable report to the following bills:

  • 4634 (Miranda): An Act providing emergency access to equity and justice for all in response to COVID-19
  • 4726 (Barber / Farley-Bouvier) / S.2659 (Eldridge): An Act to provide equal stimulus checks to immigrant taxpayers
  • 4727 (Gouveia): An Act providing for emergency cash assistance in response to COVID-19

It has been more than two months since Governor Baker issued a state of emergency due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and in the ensuing time, we have seen record levels of unemployment in Massachusetts. Such statistics, moreover, understate the economic insecurity that exists, as they ignore those who have been out of the workforce for too long, those whose unemployment claims have not yet been processed, those who have had difficulty navigating an overburdened system, and those who are underemployed. The essential workers who remain employed are forced to pay extra money for public health precautions and have to constantly debate the tradeoffs between their economic security and their health.

People are having difficulty paying rents and bills, and although the recently passed eviction and foreclosure moratorium is a much-needed stopgap, it foretells the wave of housing insecurity to come after the moratorium is lifted.

Beyond all this is the question of economic recovery. If people have accumulated debts that they cannot pay, they will be unable to spend money on needed goods and services, which will lead to a prolonged recession and sluggish recovery.

There is no silver bullet to any of these problems, and the Legislature needs to be taking far bolder and more comprehensive action. However, there is a simple step that the Legislature could take that would go far: direct cash assistance.

The federal CARES Act provided critical support in the form of a $1,2000 rebate to many taxpayers. However, this one-time rebate will not be enough to stem the wave of economic insecurity, and the CARES Act also had major omissions. In particularly, the cash assistance it contained only applied to individuals with Social Security Numbers, thus excluding families in which any family member lacks a Social Security Number. This exclusion harms mixed-status families, including families with U.S. citizen children, many of whom have filed tax returns using an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) rather than a Social Security Number, as well as families composed of two ITIN filers. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has estimated that there are approximately 57,000 persons in ITIN taxpayer households in Massachusetts.

Many of these excluded families are also ineligible for Unemployment Insurance even though they have paid into the UI system, having filed tax returns using an ITIN and paid the same share of income taxes as those with Social Security Numbers. These families, many of whom contain members who are essential workers on the front lines, deserve the same assistance as other taxpayers.

These bills would address both of these problems. H.4634 and H.4727 would provide additional rounds of economic assistance, and H.4726 and S.2659 would authorize the Commonwealth to provide an equivalent rebate to that found in the CARES Act to those who had been excluded. 

We ask you to please act swiftly to give a favorable report to H.4634, H.726, H.727, and S.2659 to guarantee economic security in a time of unprecedented instability.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jonathan Cohn

Chair, Issues Committee

Progressive Massachusetts

 

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