Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, BayLegal’s Economic Impact Payment (EIP) team has worked to connect low- and very low-income Bay Area residents with economic impact payments (“stimulus payments”) as a critical part of our broader work to ensure access to income supports and public benefits programs. As with other public benefits, the individuals and communities in the Bay Area most severely economically impacted by the pandemic are often most likely to be disconnected from equitable access to these supports. Our EIP Team’s outreach, frequently updated legal information, online self-referral form, knowledge-sharing and training of other BayLegal staff has contributed over the past year to increased participation in this vital income support program. Our attorneys have assisted more than 200 individuals directly with receiving EIPs, with our digital and print resources reaching hundreds more.
In late April this work took its next step forward with the launch of our in-person EIP clinics in San Francisco. On April 27th and 29th, the team met with residents at a city Shelter-in-Place hotel, where our SSI team has been conducting intakes. Team members met with residents and community members one on one to discuss the stimulus payments, conduct preliminary questions, and help them file their tax returns or upload documents (using cellphone cameras) to a tax preparer who will call them to help them finish up.
For the 15 or more participants at each clinic session, the potential impact of this work is hard to overstate. Team members report feeling moved upon realizing how few of the clinic participants had been adequately informed that there were 3 payments for which they potentially qualified, or the amount of payments for which they were eligible, or that these payments were accessible to individuals who had not previously filed tax returns as long as they could connect with free tax preparation services. Team members were able to make these critical connections, and help participants navigate various tax situations and followup processes, simply by being able to (a) be there in person and (b) have phones and computers that could be used to upload participants’ documents.
As BayLegal Social Worker and EIP team member Carrie Banks put it: “If 15 people successfully get their stimulus checks — that means in three hours you helped people obtain $48,000 in additional income. For a SIP hotel resident who receives GA (General Assistance cash aid) at $90/month these stimulus checks amount to more than 4x their annual income.” And thanks to the multidisciplinary team on hand, these impacts were further extended with assistance applying for free Muni bus passes and Social Security benefits.
Building from the success of the first two clinics, the team is now working to bring this service to some of the San Francisco vaccination sites as well. We look forward to helping more San Francisco residents who are most in need of the emergency support provided by the EIPs, and also most likely to face barriers to access.