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Stimulus checks unclaimed

Thousands of Kentucky's most vulnerable residents have left millions of dollars in unclaimed stimulus checks in government bank accounts. Those residents only have until Oct. 15 to file a tax return to receive the payment, government officials said Tuesday.

According to the Internal Revenue Service and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 67,198 eligible Kentucky residents have left a total of $20 million in economic stimulus checks unclaimed.

Nationwide, an estimated 4.3 million people who are eligible have not filed a tax return or collected a stimulus check, according to the IRS.

Last year, Congress approved an economic stimulus package targeting lower and moderate income residents. But to get the one-time checks — which vary in amount depending on income level — people had to file a 2007 tax return.

The more than 67,000 who have not filed a tax return include those who receive social security, disability and veterans' benefits, said Jodie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the IRS. Those people typically don't have to file tax returns — many have not filed one in years — and may not know that they are entitled to a stimulus check, Reynolds said.

Donna Cohen Ross, director of outreach for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit Washington D.C. think tank, said the center has found that many veterans and elderly people have failed to file because they are not sure what forms to fill out and many are concerned that if they take the stimulus payment they will not be eligible for other government programs such as Medicare or food stamps.

"It doesn't make you ineligible for other programs," Cohen Ross said.

According to IRS documents, Jefferson County and Louisville have the greatest number of people who are eligible for checks — 11,355 people who may be entitled to as much as $3.4 million. In Fayette County, an estimated 3,694 disabled or elderly people may be eligible for the stimulus check.

The IRS office on Leestown Road will help people fill out their tax forms for free, Reynolds said.

Payment amounts depend on income but can be up to $300 for an individual or $1,200 for a married couple.

Reynolds said that an additional 91,000 Kentuckians who have filed for an extension to file their taxes are also eligible for the stimulus. October 15 is also the final deadline for all extensions.

As of Aug. 29, the IRS has issued $93 billion in economic stimulus payments to 114.8 million individuals and families.

Gov. Steve Beshear urged people Tuesday to take action.

"With the tough economic realities we are facing, compounded by the pinch we are feeling at the gas pump, these checks could mean a real boost to your family's budget," Beshear said in a written statement. "I urge you to file your return if you haven't already and claim the money that is rightfully yours."