The US government sent $1.4 billion in coronavirus stimulus checks to more than 1 million deceased Americans, an independent Congressional watchdog said Thursday.
Findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) came at a time when the Donald Trump administration weighs a “very generous” bill to distribute another round of checks which already has support of Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The report, which examined relief packages in March and April, found payment to almost 1.1 million deceased individuals occurred during the first three rounds of stimulus checks that were rushed out as part of the CARES Act, which sought relief from economic damage of the pandemic with one-time direct payments of up to $1,200 per adult, with an additional $500 for each child under 16 years old.
It cited Treasury Department officials who mandated the checks be distributed as “rapidly as possible.”
The Treasury Department and The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “did not use the death records to stop payments to deceased individuals for the first three batches of payments because of the legal interpretation under which IRS was operating” and those three batches of payments accounted for 72% of the payments disbursed as of May 31, the report said.
“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,” said GAO. “However, the IRS does not currently plan to take additional steps to notify ineligible recipients on how to return payments.”
The agency recommended the IRS “consider cost effective options for notifying ineligible recipients on how to return payments” and asked Congress to allow access by the Treasury Department to Social Security death records to make sure more checks are not sent to deceased Americans.
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