Can a nursing home take my stimulus money?

Most of us know that residents at nursing homes are at a higher risk of complications if they contract the coronavirus — but they’re also vulnerable to the possibility of having their stimulus checks taken from them, a recent Federal Trade Commission report suggested.

Some facilities are trying to siphon the government-issued checks from residents on Medicaid, the FTC said. “They’re claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility gets to keep the stimulus payment,” the agency said. The check in question was part of the CARES Act, the stimulus package enacted in March to combat the negative financial consequences of COVID-19, and individuals could receive as much as $1,200 if they met income limits and were not claimed as dependents by anyone else.

The economic impact payments, as the stimulus checks are known, are tax credits, which do not qualify as resources for federal benefits program, the FTC said. “So: when Congress calls these payments ‘tax credits’ in the CARES Act, that means the government can’t seize them,” the FTC said in its release. “Which means nursing homes and assisted living facilities can’t take that money from their residents just because they’re on Medicaid.”

See: Social Security recipients may be in for a rude awakening later this year

Individuals are encouraged to reach out to their state attorney general’s office and file a complaint to the FTC. Local politicians have also taken up the fight against this behavior. “I’m sickened to hear reports that nursing homes are stealing stimulus checks from seniors,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott said in a statement. “Anyone found to be withholding checks from seniors will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”

People in long-term care centers typically manage their own money, or can choose someone else they trust to manage it for them, the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living told MarketWatch. Stimulus money is meant to be managed just as any other resident benefit payments are.

“For any resident who may receive a stimulus check, Medicaid eligibility is protected and Medicare coverage is protected,” the associations said. “Nursing facilities will not receive any additional private payments. Pre-COVID patient and resident income and asset protections remain in place for the stimulus payments.”

Also see: Claim Social Security benefits and still haven’t gotten your stimulus check? You’re not alone

Stimulus payments do not count as income by law, so they will not affect Medicaid eligibility either, the National Center on Law and Elder Rights said. Residents are expected to pay the same monthly amount to their facilities and use the stimulus checks as they’d like. These checks also do not count as a Medicaid resource for a year, which means it does not count against any savings limits in those 12 months. “In general, a resident can spend the stimulus money as they wish, including gifts and charitable contributions,” the center said. “This is the resident’s money to spend on their wants and needs.”

Many Americans have already received their checks, but some are still waiting. Taxpayers, Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients may be expecting these payments to arrive in their bank accounts if they have direct deposit set up for their tax refunds and benefits, but may receive them in the mail instead — which could take weeks as the Internal Revenue Service works to send them all out. Individuals can check the status of their payment on the IRS tool “Get Your Payment.”

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