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State reminds older adults of their rights regarding Federal Stimulus checks

HARRISBURG – As Pennsylvanians receive a second round of federal stimulus payments as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, the Pennsylvania departments of Aging, Human Services (DHS) and Insurance are again reminding consumers living in long-term care facilities that these checks belong to them, not the facilities where they live.

“When the first round of federal stimulus checks went out last spring, we received complaints that involved residents of long-term care facilities being told that their federal stimulus checks count as income that must be surrendered, in part or in whole, to pay for services. What we said then, we repeat now: Residents should know that this is not true,” said Pennsylvania State Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Margaret Barajas of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. “These stimulus payments are issued with the general expectation that long-term care residents – like all citizens receiving checks – will make their own choices about how to spend their money. I, as the State Ombudsman, am committed to advocating for and resolving these issues for older adults, case-by-case.”

DHS has issued guidance for how economic impact payments affect the eligibility of those receiving long-term care for Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, Medical Assistance (MA). This guidance directs that the economic payment is not considered income for the purposes of MA eligibility. The portion of the economic impact payments that are spent within 12 months of receipt is also considered an excluded resource for MA eligibility. DHS also issued guidance on economic impact payments for personal care homes and assisted living residences. There should be no change to a resident’s monthly charges in their contract due to this payment. Residents may direct their concerns or complaints to the DHS Complaint Hotline at 877-401-8835.

“We want to assure residents of these facilities that these stimulus payments are theirs – it is not meant to be a rent rebate,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “No one should worry that accepting this payment will affect their ability to keep Medicaid eligibility or their housing. The Department of Aging and DHS are working closely together to make sure that people who live in long-term care facilities are aware of their rights to this economic payment. Any resident of a facility who is concerned that their payment is in jeopardy should reach out to the Pennsylvania State Long-Term Care Ombudsman right away.”

“The Insurance Department has remained dedicated to ensuring Pennsylvania residents are clear that neither Medicaid, nor the facility in which a Medicaid beneficiary resides, has rights to an individual’s stimulus check,” said Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman. “Stimulus checks are tax credits and the Federal Trade Commission has continued to make this clear since last Spring. The payments are not ‘resources’ for purposes of qualifying for federal benefit programs and may not be taken from residents.”

“One of our key responsibilities at the Department of Aging is to advocate on behalf of older adults,” said Aging Secretary Robert Torres. “Part of that involves making sure older adults, whatever their living situation, know their rights and where they can turn to for help and information. The federal government has made it clear that these stimulus payments should go directly to the individual whose name is on the check. If an older adult or their loved one has questions or concerns, they should seek help.”

Consumers with concerns should call the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office at 800-441-2555. But if they need some extra help preparing to make their complaint, the Department of Aging’s LTC State Ombudsman is happy to offer support. The number to call for help is 717-783-8975.

Sec. Torres also noted that consumers may receive the Economic Impact Payment by prepaid debit card, instead of by paper check. These cards arrive in a plain white envelope. EIP Card recipients can make purchases, get cash from in-network ATMs, and transfer funds to their personal bank account without incurring any fees. The EIP Card can be used online, at ATMs, or at any retail location where Visa is accepted. Some people who received a paper check last time might receive a prepaid debit card this time, and some people who received a prepaid debit card last time may receive a paper check. To learn more about stimulus payment eligibility or check on the status of a payment, visit www.irs.gov/coronavirus.

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