Alexandra Goards with her husband, Ashish, and their son, Lucca, in Waterville. They aren’t eligible for a federal stimulus payment, and, “My husband keeps apologizing to me because we’re not going to get it,” she said. “He’s sorry he’s an immigrant pretty much. And it’s breaking my heart.”  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Alexandra Goards said she and her husband work hard and pay their taxes. In December the Waterville couple welcomed their first child.

Goards, a 33-year-old bartender, was on maternity leave when the coronavirus hit. Like most other Americans, she was looking forward to receiving a stimulus payment from the federal CARES Act to ease the financial strain on her family.

But Goards was shocked to learn that her family was not eligible for the federal Economic Impact Payment because her husband, who works as a roofer during the day and as a convenience store clerk at night, is an immigrant without a Social Security number.

“My husband keeps apologizing to me because we’re not going to get it,” an emotional Goards said in a phone interview. “He’s sorry he’s an immigrant pretty much. And it’s breaking my heart.”

But people without Social Security numbers are not eligible, and neither are their spouses, so many immigrants and their families are not getting stimulus checks.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. citizens and their children are not eligible for a stimulus payment – $1,200 per adult with a Social Security number earning up to $75,000 and $500 per child – if they file a joint tax return with an immigrant who has an Individual Tax Identification Number, unless one spouse is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Some non-citizens cannot get Social Security numbers, so they obtain tax IDs in order to pay taxes.

It’s unclear how many families are affected by the exclusion. Citing figures from the IRS, the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit immigrant advocate group, says 4.35 million people paid over $13.7 billion in net taxes in 2015 using an individual tax number, rather than a Social Security number.

The U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS reported Friday that 88 million individuals received payments worth nearly $158 billion in the program’s first three weeks. That includes nearly 401,000 payments totaling $722 million to Mainers.

In 2018, nearly 1,500 state tax returns were filed using a tax number, as opposed to a Social Security number, according to data provided by the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services. That’s 699 individual returns and 778 joint returns, including 373 joint returns when only one filer used a tax number.

Julia Brown, advocacy director for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland, said the policy affects people without documentation, a spouse or dependent of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, and people with a student visa, among others.

“It is unconscionable that so many immigrant families have been abandoned by lawmakers during this unprecedented time,” Brown said. “COVID-19 does not discriminate, and neither should our public health and economic stimulus policies.”

Immigration attorneys say there is little they can do, because the exclusion is part of tax law.

“As immigration lawyers, we are very frustrated and disappointed with this result and wish we could do something,” said Leslie Silverstein, a Portland immigration attorney. “But it appears to be a tax issue, even though in my opinion it’s unfairly impacting many immigrants and their families.”

Efforts are underway to challenge and change that law.

A U.S. citizen using the pseudonym Joe Doe filed a federal lawsuit Friday in Chicago against the Trump administration. The man says he was denied a stimulus payment because his wife files taxes with a tax ID number rather than a Social Security number.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, is among 53 co-sponsors of a bill that would allow people with individual tax identification numbers to receive stimulus payments. She noted that the existing rules punishes green card holders who are allowed to legally work and pay taxes, simply because of the way they file taxes.

“This policy is backward and consistent with the Trump administration’s nonstop attacks on immigrant families,” Pingree said in written statement. “Many of my Democratic colleagues and I want to see this policy amended so that legally present taxpayers are able to receive the stimulus check they deserve.”

The bill was introduced this month by Rep. J. Luis Correa, a California Democrat who said in a written statement that he was “appalled” that these taxpayers, including hospital and agricultural workers, were excluded from the $2 trillion CARES Act.

“While many of us sit at home, these hardworking immigrants are still at work in our hospitals, our fields, and countless other industries,” Correa said. “The coronavirus doesn’t care about a person’s wealth, job, or immigration status. By casting out immigrants, we are placing some of our most vulnerable residents in grave danger. Every individual taxpayer, irrespective of citizenship status, needs government assistance now.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, the Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd District, did not directly answer a question about whether Golden supports the bill and instead indicated he was not a co-sponsor.

Goards said the situation is especially frustrating for her family. Her husband, Ashish, who came to the United States from India on a work visa to work at his parent’s restaurant, has all the paperwork needed to secure a Social Security number. And the couple, who have been married for more than two years, has one last immigration interview. But she said the entire process is stalled, because federal offices are closed.

At this point, Goards would be happy to receive a partial payment.

“Even if they didn’t send the money for him, it’s still wrong, but I would understand,” she said. “My baby and I are U.S. citizens.”


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