More Than 1 Million Stimulus Payments Sent to Dead People

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sent stimulus checks to more than a million dead Americans. As of April 30, almost 1.1 million payments totaling $1.4 billion had been issued to the dead, a government watchdog said in a report to Congress released Thursday. Released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the findings were part of a sweeping review of the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March.

According to the report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, several mistakes were made as lawmakers made swift efforts to aid the hurting economy. As the CARES Act was being drafted, IRS officials had reportedly brought up the possibility that payments could go to the deceased, though "IRS counsel determined they did not have the legal authority to deny payments to people who had filed a return." Compounding issues was the fact that to meet the CARES Act's mandate to deliver payments as "rapidly as possible," the Treasury and IRS used operational policies and procedures that had been put in place for the 2008 stimulus checks, "which did not include using [Social Security Administration] death records as a filter to halt payments to decedents."

As the more than 160 million economic impact payments began to be sent out in mid-April, hundreds of Americans had reported their deceased loved ones receiving payments, whether via direct deposit or a physical check sent in the mail. The scenario caused an influx of confusion, eventually prompting the IRS to issue new guidelines on May 6, in which they said that payments "made to someone who died before receipt of the Payment should be returned to the IRS." The agency also released instructions on how people could return the payments, even if they had already been cashed.

According to the GAO's report, however, the IRS does not currently have plans to take steps to retrieve such payments. The GAO, however, recommends that the IRS "should consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients how to return payments." The IRS reportedly agreed with this recommendation.

In response to the high number of stimulus checks that had been sent to deceased Americans, the GAO also recommended that in the future, Congress should "provide the 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."