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California is offering stimulus checks to undocumented households. Here's how to qualify

Sacramento Bee logoSacramento Bee 2/26/2021 Kim Bojórquez, The Sacramento Bee

Feb. 26—In order to provide relief to immigrant communities financially affected by the coronavirus pandemic, California is making available stimulus checks to those who file taxes with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, also known as ITINs.

The Internal Revenue Service issues ITINs to undocumented immigrants who don't qualify to receive Social Security Numbers, but they must first provide completed tax forms and documentation to receive one, according to Dana Hadl, a directing attorney for Bet Tzedek's Employment Rights Project in Los Angeles.

"It's really important right now for folks to be applying for or renewing their ITINs," she said. "Undocumented Californians have been cut out not only from all federal relief, but they also don't have any access to the necessary social safety nets that have gotten the rest of Californians through this pandemic."

Here's what you need to know about applying for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

What is an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?

The IRS issues ITINs, which are tax processing numbers, for immigrants who are not eligible to receive work-authorized Social Security Numbers for the purpose of filing taxes.

Should I apply for an ITIN?

Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 approved a budget deal that allows Californians with ITINs who earn less than $30,000 a year to access the California Earned Income Tax Credit and the Young Child Tax Credit.

Those eligible to receive the state's earned income tax credit can receive a one-time payment of $1,200 under Newsom's Golden State Stimulus plan.

Separately, ITIN filers who earn under $75,000 a year are expected to receive a one-time $600 stimulus payment.

Those two tax breaks, combined with the state's stimulus payment, can mean hundreds of more dollars in the pockets of undocumented Californians.

Noncitizens with valid Social Security Numbers don't need to apply for ITINs.

How do I apply for an ITIN and where can I find help?

Individuals can apply for ITINs by completing the IRS W-7 tax form. The tax form must be completed along with a federal income tax return. Along with with their completed tax forms, individuals must send current original or certified copies of documents proving an individual's identity and foreign nationality status, like a passport.

But Hadl does not recommend that individuals mail hard-to-replace documents like passports or identification cards to the IRS. Instead, she suggests tax filers visit in-person services for help. Those include IRS-approved Certifying Acceptance Agents or scheduling an appointment at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center, where in-person reviews of the documents are available.

Is the form available in Spanish?

Yes. The W-7 form can be found in Spanish here.

How long does it take the IRS to issue an ITIN?

Currently, applicants could experience delays to receive ITINs from the IRS due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hadl said.

How many Californians have ITINs?

California is home to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, but only an estimated 600,000 tax returns in the state included ITINs last year, according to Sasha Feldstein, economic justice policy manager for the California Immigrant Policy Center.

"Now that ITIN filers are included in the CALEITC and Golden State Stimulus, we're hoping and anticipating that we'll see an uptick in tax returns this year," she said.

Will my information be shared with other government agencies?

Internal Revenue disclosure laws state that "pursuant to court order, (tax) return information may be shared with law enforcement agencies for investigation and prosecution of non-tax criminal laws."

Many undocumented immigrants worry about providing their personal information to the IRS in fear that it will be shared with other government agencies, according to Hadl.

Because of that, Hadli said there are "strong firewalls" through California's Franchise Tax Board to prevent that from happening.

"The IRS and the Franchise Tax Board," said Hadl, "care more about folks paying their taxes than about people's immigration status. That's why the ITINs were created in the first place."


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