In-Depth: Why 3 million low-income Californians won't get a gas rebate payment

Posted at 7:04 PM, Jul 12, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — About 23 million Californians will get a payment from the state deposited into their bank account this fall between $200 and $1,050 to help offset the high cost of things like gas.

But lawmakers acknowledge several million low-income Californians who could use the money will be left out.

The payments are set to begin in late October. To qualify, residents must have filed a 2020 tax return. About three million Californians don’t earn enough money to owe taxes, so they aren’t required to file – including some seniors and disabled people.

“Great, tax rebates for middle-income folks. It's going to be really appreciated. But we also need to make sure that we're covering the people who are suffering the most right now,” said Trinh Phan, an attorney with Justice in Aging.

State lawmakers initially planned to provide a grant for people who don’t file taxes, but the provision was removed during negotiations between Democrats in the Senate, Assembly, and Governor Gavin Newsom.

“Ultimately, the configuration of the tax rebate was subject to three-party negotiations as part of the final budget, and there were concerns that there wasn’t an efficient and secure way of accomplishing a grant program to non-taxfilers,” the office of Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins said in a statement.

Using tax filings to distribute payments will provide the most relief to the most people, a spokesperson for Atkins said by email. In every scenario lawmakers studied, some deserving Californians would have been left out, they added.

Social Security benefits are administered by the federal government, and states do not have access to that data, Phan said. That means if someone doesn’t file a state tax return, there’s no easy way for California to identify them and quickly send them a payment.

“In the longer term, let's create that secure and effective way to reach these folks,” Phan said. “I think this is something that is a feasible wish.”

Terrence Perkins is one of the Californians who will miss out on the payment. He lives in a converted bus, parked under an 805 overpass in Webster.

Perkins’ bus is in need of engine repair, so he could “very much” use some extra money, but he doesn’t lament the gap in the state refund program.

“Frustration is not going to help me in my situation,” he said.

To reach Californians who do not file taxes, the state is increasing benefits in other programs that assist low-income residents. Supplemental Social Security grants will go up by about $39 a month for individuals and $100 for couples. Welfare grants from CalWORKs will be 10 percent larger over the next two years.

However, seniors who live on Social Security benefits and earn more than $1,060 a month will not qualify for those grants, Phan said. And if they didn’t file a state tax return in 2020, they’ll miss out on the rebate too.