This is cross-posted with Adoptee Rights Law Center to provide an overview of COVID-19 issues that may impact adult adopted people beyond the immediate threat to a person’s health, community, and economic safety. It is likely a series of posts on this issue.
The $2 Trillion Stimulus Bill (CARES Act)
The $2 trillion CARES Act became effective last week. Broadly, it provides cash to certain individual tax filers, increased unemployment insurance payments for those unemployed, and bailouts and loans to large and small businesses and industries. For adoptees, a few questions warrant closer examination.
Who gets a check?
In general, individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 or less will receive a $1,200 check (called “economic impact payments”), and those earning more than that amount will receive less, with it being phased out for any individual whose taxable income in 2019 is greater than $98,000. For married couples filing jointly, $2,400 checks will generally be sent to those with less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income, phased out at $198,000. The IRS sums up the sliding scale provisions this way: single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible.
There are numerous sites that have a calculation function to help determine if you qualify for a check and for how much, such as this one at the Washington Post (and it also answers other questions, such as “How does the U.S. government know where to send the money?”).
Will intercountry adoptees without citizenship get a check?
Yes, with some very limited exceptions. First, a check—and the actual amount of that check—depends on your income level (see above). Second, checks will go to any tax filer who 1) has a social security number; and 2) is not a “nonresident alien.” A “nonresident alien” is a specific tax term. Bottom line is this: if you are a legal permanent resident (you have a “green card”), than you qualify. And even if you are not a legal permanent resident you qualify if you are a tax filer who has resided in the United States for a minimal amount of time, which most intercountry adoptees meet (and so long as the income and other requirements are met. More information about the term “nonresident alien” is available here, including the two tests to determine if you are or are not a nonresident alien for tax purposes.
I don’t have my social security card. Does this mean I will not receive a stimulus check?
No. It does not depend on actually possessing a social security card. You only need your number. For adoptees—especially intercountry adoptees who have trouble securing a replacement card for a lost social security card—having a valid social security number is sufficient.
I did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019. Will I get a check if I otherwise qualify?
Maybe. It is best that you file a tax return as soon as possible, even if you were not required to do so in the past. This generally applies to people whose incomes were not sufficient to meet IRS filing requirements (I have adoptee clients in this situation). The IRS has more information about what to do here, with links to free online filing services also available.
I heard that the state requirements for implementing the REAL ID Act may be delayed another year. What does this mean for me?
It means some relief to adoptees, especially intercountry adoptees, who are currently unable to renew drivers’ licenses or other identity documents. The CARES Act contains this provision:
The Secretary of Homeland Security, under the authority granted under section 205(b) of the REAL ID Act of 2005 . . . shall extend the deadline by which States are required to meet the driver license and identification card issuance requirements under section 202(a)(1) of such Act until not earlier than September 30, 2021.
This means that, for those intercountry adoptees (or anyone, actually) who do not have a state-issued ID that meets the REAL ID requirements, they will still be able to use that ID for federal identification purposes after September 30, 2020. What does that mean practically? It means only that, if you do not have REAL ID compliant identification now, you have an extra year to figure that out.
This is not a trivial issue. I currently represent clients who have significant problems in obtaining state-issued ID, which affects their ability to work and would in six months have prohibited their ability to travel by plane for work. This REAL ID Act extension will allow those clients another year to secure needed identification before the REAL ID Act is in full effect. I am also working on a policy paper to address the overall issue of identity documents, which has disproportionately affected adopted people.
Intercountry Adoptees: Citizenship
Intercountry adoptees without US citizenship, or without proof of that citizenship, should expect significant delays from USCIS in any pending naturalization applications as well any applications that are submitted during the pandemic. In addition, securing required state-level vital records and other documents will be very difficult while government functions are either shut down or reorganized to fight COVID-19.
That said, there are a number of additional issues that I am watching to determine how the CARES Act or the crisis may apply to citizenship issues, including:
- Public Charge. I am watching how the new “public charge” rule may interact with any economic recovery efforts and how it could be used against adoptees without citizenship. The new public charge rule, however, only applies to intercountry adoptees who are not already legal permanent residents. It does not apply to those who already have a green card.
- Deportations. As I write this, an intercountry adoptee was, at last report, deported on March 30 to Colombia from Massachusetts and is now in to a fourteen-day quarantine before being released on his own in Bogota. The deportation occurred during the pandemic, and it is not known what safety measures were in place to protect his health, though news stories about this general issue have not been encouraging. Deportations have not stopped as a result of COVID-19, and a federal lawsuit challenging the conditions and care of the 37,000 people in ICE custody during this public health crisis has recently been filed.
- Fee Waivers. The fees for citizenship applications and other forms is likely going to increase in the near future, many substantially. In addition, the current administration has proposed eliminating fee waivers for naturalization and citizenship related forms. Such a change will substantially affect most of my clients and hundreds of thousands of others who seek to become citizens. Whether that is changed in the wake of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to be seen, though I am certainly not holding my breath for leniency on the part those in charge of US immigration policy.
The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019, while still active in the US Congress, will likely fall victim to the ongoing crisis, particularly with Congress focused on the immediate emergency and on future economic and political fallout from the emergency. While at one point it was thought there would be a hearing and vote on the House bill this summer, I personally don’t see that happening.
State-Level Adoptee Rights Legislation
I continue to monitor adoptee rights legislation. In the midst of a global pandemic—with most legislatures having already adjourned to avoid spreading the disease— little action will occur at this point. I know of only two state-level bills that passed before the coronavirus crisis closed or severely curtailed all state legislation: Utah and Florida. Those bills, unfortunately, were not equal rights bills, and the Utah bill has just been signed by the governor.
The immediate future of adoptee rights legislation is simply not known. When this national emergency subsides, likely months from now, legislators will be focused on economic recovery and ongoing public health efforts. I do not foresee adoptee rights legislation being a priority in the first year after this crisis resolves, particularly since it is not already a priority issue. That said, it is too early to tell what the 2021 session (or a continuation of the 2020 session) will bring.
Vital Records Operations
Vital records offices are typically divisions within state departments of health. Those departments are likely inundated with issues related to COVID-19 and responding to the growing public health crisis. Some offices are closed and others are open but not for in-person service. While processing of vital records applications may be continuing in many jurisdictions, we are advising people not to contact state or local health departments unless absolutely necessary.
Where Can I Find More Information?
Here are various resources and documents that could help you understand various issues and how they may apply to you:
- Internal Revenue Service Coronavirus Tax Relief
- US Congress: Text of the CARES Act
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center : COVID-19 and Immigration
- USCIS: Response to COVID-19 (office closings and other information)
- NAPHSIS: Vital Records Operation Status During COVID-19 Response
Questions? Fire Away
Feel free to ask general questions in the comments below about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect you or adoptees.