With Congress yet to hammer out the final details of an economic stimulus package, everyone wants to know if they'll find a rebate check in their mailbox this spring.
And one of the major sticking points is whether retirees without any earned income would get any money.
The House-passed bill would provide tax rebates of up to $600 for individuals and up to $1,200 for couples filing jointly, and for families an additional payment of $300 per child. Only individuals with at least $3,000 in annual taxable income would be eligible for rebate checks.
The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would provide tax rebates to more Americans, including senior citizens who receive Social Security retirement benefits but do not have earned income. The Senate is expected to consider this bill and other proposals Wednesday.
Ellen Campbell, an enrolled agent with Valley-based Campbell Tax and Financial Services, said everything remains undecided, and it's still several months before anyone would receive a check. Enrolled agents are licensed tax preparers.
"Retirees at least ought to be given some consideration because they would sure stimulate the economy, you know they'd spend it," she said.
"This definitely will stimulate people's spending, which of course in the long run is what (President Bush and Congress) planned to stimulate the economy."
A final vote on a stimulus plan is expected around Valentine's Day, "so it would be a nice present," said Kerry Freeman, vice president of the Central Arizona Chapter of Enrolled Agents.
"I'm not sure how they're going to handle seniors," he said. "That's a big group that hasn't even been addressed in (the House bill)."
Many retirees don't have a tax liability, and many don't even need to file a federal tax return, Freeman said. Retirees who work part time probably would be eligible for rebate checks, "but some of them don't even file because their income is so low," he said.
Jim Dau, AARP spokesman, said the Senate Finance Committee plan would provide some stimulus support to about 20 million Americans who survive primarily on Social Security.
"It is my understanding that it would treat Social Security income as taxable income, which would allow them to qualify for the rebate," he said.
"The plan also extends federal unemployment insurance for jobless Americans, which is particularly important for older workers who tend to have a harder time getting back to work after losing employment. So it's another way of targeting those who need it the most and are more likely to turn it around quicker."
Proposing an economic stimulus package that leaves out large numbers of people is "like squeezing one end of a balloon," Dau said. "The pressure just builds up someplace else. We think that tax rebates are a good idea as an economic stimulus measure, but we also think there has to be some kind of stimulus targeted to nontaxed Americans."
The last economic stimulus package - the Workers Assistance Act of 2002 - provided tax rebate checks to everyone who filed a 2001 federal income tax return, Freeman said.