The federal government sent more than $1.4 billion dollars in COVID-19 stimulus payments to more than a million Americans who were dead, according to a report from a government watchdog released Thursday.
According to the report issued by the Government Accountability Office, an independent nonpartisan congressional agency, more than 160 million payments were sent out by the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department as part of the CARES Act, a massive $2.2 trillion stimulus package meant to help ease the economic blow brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Of those checks, almost 1.1 million payments totaling nearly $1.4 billion went to deceased Americans.
"The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury moved quickly to disburse 160.4 million payments worth $269 billion. The agencies faced difficulties delivering payments to some individuals, and faced additional risks related to making improper payments to ineligible individuals, such as decedents, and fraud," the report states.
Economic Impact Payments of up to $1,200 were sent out to eligible Americans making up to $75,000 per year, and couples making up to $150,000 based on their 2018 or 2019 income tax returns. The amount sent to individuals was reduced for those making more than $75,000 with an income cap of $99,000 per individual, or $198,000 for couples.
The GAO report also found that thanks to the government's haste to meet the CARES Act's mandate that stimulus checks must be delivered as "rapidly as possible," the Treasury Department and the IRS sent out the first three sets of payments without using death records from the Social Security Administration.
GAO also reported that IRS' legal counsel had "determined that the IRS did not have the legal authority to deny payments to those who filed a return for 2019, even if they were deceased at the time of payment." The agency decided to apply the same rules to recipients who had filed a 2018 return - whether they were living or not.
Initially, it was believed that families of the deceased would be able to keep those checks, however, the IRS updated its website with new guidelines on how people could return the money that was inadvertently sent to them.
The report also noted that the IRS does not have a plan in place to notify those ineligible recipients, or the relatives of the nearly 1.1 million deceased who incorrectly received a stimulus payment.
Lawmakers are also trying to get another stimulus package through Congress, with President Donald Trump on Monday opening the door to another round of "very generous" stimulus payments as the economy continues to stagger through the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic-led House has already passed a $3 trillion stimulus package known as the HEROES Act that would include another round of checks sent to Americans, however, Republican leaders in the Senate have called the bill a "non-starter" and that Congress should wait to see what, if any, additional stimulus will be needed.
Nothing will be decided until at least mid-July when the Senate reconvenes.
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