Trump administration sent $1.4bn in stimulus checks to dead people

Steve Mnuchin: The IRS has said payments to dead people – or the incarcerated – should be returned


The Trump administration sent almost $1.4bn in coronavirus stimulus payments to dead people, according to its own watchdog’s report.

In the report released on Thursday, the US Government Accountability Office (USGAO) said almost 1.1 million dead people received payments of about $1,200 each, as of 30 April.

The payments were part of about $3tn in economic relief approved by Congress in March and April.

The need for help remains: on Thursday it was revealed that another 1.48 million Americans filed for unemployment assistance last week, bringing the total since the pandemic began to about 47 million.

Donald Trump is in favor of further relief payments. But the president is out of step with many Republicans in Congress, who may seize on reports of bureaucratic dysfunction to block new moves.

According to the USGAO, the payments to dead people happened because the system used to send out the payments was based on that used during the Great Recession of 2008, was not synchronized between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US treasury, and did not use death records as a filter.

“The number of economic impact payments going to decedents,” the report said, “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.

“USGAO 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.”

The IRS has said payments to dead people – or the incarcerated – should be returned.

Explaining why payments – and its study of them – were necessary, USGAO wrote: “The outbreak of Covid-19 quickly spread around the globe. As of 17 June 2020, the US had over 2m reported cases of Covid-19, and over 100,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies.”

As of 25 June, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the US has seen nearly 2.3m cases and nearly 122,000 deaths.

Despite a surge in cases in states, mostly Republican-led, that are attempting to reopen their economies, the Trump administration has moved to end funding for 13 testing sites including seven in Texas, a state reporting record case numbers.

On Wednesday, Johns Hopkins reported a national one-day total of new cases of 34,700, the highest since April.

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