How Do Northeast Ohio's Homeless Receive Their Federal Stimulus Checks?

A man lying on the sidewalk with a sign that reads "homeless and hungry"
The stimulus check is sent by mail or direct deposit, which require an address or bank account. [Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock]

The federal government began distributing stimulus checks last week and local advocacy groups are working to help make sure at-risk populations get their funds — including those without a permanant address.

Filling out the IRS’ online non-filer form requires both an internet connection and mailing address or bank account information. That’s difficult for the homeless, said Molly Martin with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH).

NEOCH is working with the West Side Catholic Center to send volunteers to meet with people to help them fill out the form, Martin said, using the center’s address to receive the check.

“There are a lot of churches and social service providers who provide mail services for people who don’t have an address,” Martin said. “We’re just making sure with our partners that that’s a question that they’re asking when they’re doing outreach with people who are unsheltered.”

With more public spaces such as libraries closed by pandemic restrictions, Martin said there are fewer options for people experiencing homelessness to go online and fill out the form on their own.

“We’re assuming that we’re going to need a worker who has a cell phone with internet access to go through the form with that person,” Martin said.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is creating additional methods to aid those impacted economically by the coronavirus, said staff attorney Jennifer Kinsley.

The organization recently started a workers’ information phone line to provide details about unemployment benefits due to a heightened number of calls, Kinsley said, and people are also calling with questions about the $1,200 stimulus checks.

“Because obviously, people with the greatest need are the people having trouble accessing this right now,” Kinsley said.

Legal Aid is working to implement virtual advice clinics and other methods of communicating options with the public, she said.

“Most service entities are definitely seeing a big increase in the individuals who need help right now,” Kinsley said. “We’re all trying to come up with the fastest and best way to get them the resources available.”

The quickest way to get the stimulus check is by opening an online bank account or using an approved prepaid card from a retailer like Walmart or 7-11, Kinsley said. Both options usually require an address and a government-issued form of identification, or access to internet and a mailing address.

“There’s a lot of confusion and concern for individuals who don’t have a bank account or an address for the method of delivery of this check,” Kinsley said.

Anyone needing to change their address in order to receive the check can do so through the IRS or U.S. Postal Service, Kinsley said, but the change-of-address process needs to be completed before the check is mailed.

The Ohio Secretary of State also offers a Safe at Home program for victims of domestic violence, stalking or similar crimes. The program provides a safe and secure mailing address for those who need to shield personal information from public records.

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