The Trump administration’s Treasury Department sent coronavirus stimulus checks to over 1 million people, totaling nearly $1.4 billion as of April 30. According to The Washington Post, while it was known that some deceased individuals were sent the $1,200 payments, the massive scale of the error wasn’t known until now.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported on the details of where the nearly $3 trillion coronavirus relief spending package passed in March went.
The Treasury Department doesn’t have access to social security death records, though the Internal Revenue Service does. After the CARES Act was passed, the IRS sent out $269 billion to over 160 million Americans. Stimulus payments went to anyone who made up to $99,000 annually and who had filed taxes in 2018 or 2019. But it appears that those who subsequently died still received a payment.
In the future, the GAO urges, the Treasury Department should be given access so that they can limit these types of errors, noting Congress should “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.”
The report also said that the IRS “should consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients how to return payments.”
The IRS published an announcement prior to the findings on its website telling people that they should return any payments sent to dead or incarcerated individuals, but the GAO says that it doesn’t appear the IRS is willing to take additional steps at this point to recover the money.
“We appreciate and agree with your recommendation that we consider cost effective options for notifying ineligible recipients on how to return payments. We are currently considering options in that regard,” said Thomas A. Brandt, IRS Chief Risk Officer.
The news comes as President Donald Trump and some members of his administration have begun calling for another round of stimulus checks for Americans who continue to be hit hard by the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
New cases of the virus have reached record-breaking numbers in recent days. But the news of how the first round of checks were mismanaged could impact the willingness of Congress to issue additional direct relief payments.
As the Washington Post notes, the GAO’s report “makes clear how, in the mad dash to pass legislation to prop up an economy in free-fall in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, mistakes were made.”
The report noted that full details on how the nearly $3 trillion was spent isn’t available because agencies don’t have to report their spending until July.
“It is unfortunate that the public will have waited more than 4 months” since the act was passed to understand how the money was spent, the report noted.