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Seniors feel forgotten by state stimulus efforts to combat inflation: ‘We’re not important enough to be considered’

August 3, 2022, 4:10 PM UTC
Senior couple sitting on bench looking at sea.
Seniors across the country say they feel “excluded” from state stimulus efforts to combat inflation.
Betsie Van Der Meer

Between her increased rent and rising gas and grocery prices, Caren Spencer, 76, has little money left over at the end of each month. She’s pared back her cable package and rarely shops; she’s considering cutting the monthly donations she makes to a couple of charities just to get by herself.

Decades-high inflation is having an impact on most Americans’ budgets. But it can be even more detrimental for seniors who live on a fixed income: Spencer relies on $2,200 a month in Social Security payments to pay for rent, groceries, medications, and other necessities. So when California promised to send residents money to help offset higher prices, Spencer was cautiously optimistic.

“It would just make my life easier,” Spencer tells Fortune. “I wouldn’t have to count every penny. I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I was going to make it through until things improved.”

Then she found out she didn’t qualify for the one-time payments, which can total between $200 and $1,050 for households earning up to $500,000. To receive the inflation stimulus, Californians need to have filed a tax return. But the state does not tax federal Social Security benefits, and those earning under certain income limits are not required to file; Spencer hasn’t in years.

The result: Many of the poorest people in the state—who would arguably benefit the most—are barred from inflation relief. Spencer is one of many seniors in states across the country saying they feel “excluded” by state stimulus efforts to combat inflation.

It’s the second blow for seniors like Spencer in California in as many years: Many also did not qualify for the Golden State Stimulus, sent out in 2021, for the same reason.

“I was in the workforce for over 50 years, paying taxes, filing taxes,” says Spencer. “I’m still paying taxes on my automobile and gasoline and sales tax. But California doesn’t think of me as a viable taxpayer.”

Those who don’t file taxes in California aren’t receiving the stimulus money because the agency managing the program does not have their tax information in its system. But Spencer says the state should create a work-around for low-income people like her, just as the federal government did so that non-filers could receive the three economic impact payments it sent out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California isn’t the only state excluding seniors and other needy Americans from inflation relief efforts. In Florida, about 60,000 low-income families with children will receive one-time payments worth $450 per qualifying child.

Many financially strapped Floridians are left wondering why they were excluded.

“A lot of us are really struggling to pay our bills after working most of our lives,” says Donna Conley, a 68-year-old Florida resident. “How about some financial help for retirees living on fixed incomes? The cost of living has long passed our income.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s offices did not return Fortune’s requests for comment.

Of course, many states aren’t implementing any inflation relief at all. But Spencer says the California legislature should have taken the extra time to ensure its efforts are inclusive of all residents, especially after becoming aware of the issue with last year’s stimulus payment.

“It makes me feel like we’re not important enough to be considered,” says Spencer. “Last year I went, ‘Oh, shoot.’ But this year I’m going, ‘What? Do we still not matter?’”

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