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Gov't watchdog says Treasury Department sent more than 1 million coronavirus stimulus checks to dead people

A massive screwup

Archivo/Miami Herald/Contributor

The federal government's $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package was created and passed to support Americans in a time when the U.S. economy was taking a hit and millions of citizens were worried about how they were going to pay their bills.

It was supposed to be a stimulus only for the living, but apparently someone at the Treasury Department didn't get the memo.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government sent payments to more than 1 million dead people with a total tab of about $1.4 billion.

What happened?

A GAO report published Thursday said the IRS "sent almost 1.1 million payments totaling nearly $1.4 billion to deceased individuals."

According to the report, the screwup happened because the government agencies do not fully share death records with each other.

The Post noted that the IRS and Treasury rushed to get 160.4 million payments after President Donald Trump signed the stimulus bill. In the rush, the fact that the Social Security Administration's full death records database was available to the IRS but not to the Treasury Department or the department's Bureau of the Fiscal Service — the office in charge of sending the stimulus payments — apparently went unnoticed.

One of the GAO's recommendations now is that perhaps the government agencies should be sharing — and using — data (emphasis in original):

The number of economic impact payments going to decedents highlights the importance of consistently using key safeguards in providing government assistance to individuals. IRS has access to the Social Security Administration's full set of death records, but Treasury and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which distribute payments, do not. GAO recommends that Congress provide Treasury with access to the Social Security Administration's full set of death records, and require that Treasury consistently use it, to help reduce similar types of improper payments.

So, what will the IRS do about getting the money back? Not much, it appears.

According to the GAO, the IRS announced May 6 that if a dead person received a stimulus payment, the full amount should be returned. However, the agency does not have any plans to take steps to get the funds back:

On May 6, 2020, IRS announced on its website that if a payment was issued to a decedent or incarcerated individual, the total amount should be returned. However, IRS does not currently plan to take additional steps to notify ineligible recipients on how to return payments.

Did anyone see this coming?

GOP Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.) said in April that stimulus checks were being sent to dead people and warned that contemporary reports of such payment were "just the tip of the iceberg" of misplaced coronavirus stimulus package spending.

Image source: Twitter screenshot

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