The federal government sent coronavirus stimulus payments to nearly 1.1 million deceased people totaling close to $1.4 billion, Congress’ independent watchdog said Thursday in revelations first reported by The Washington Post.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that conducts investigations and reports to Congress, submitted the finding as part of a nearly 400-page report on the nearly $3 trillion in coronavirus relief spending that was approved by Congress in March and April.
The report is the first of its kind under a Cares Act requirement for the office to issue bimonthly reports on the coronavirus response. The finding also comes as President Trump pushes for another round of stimulus checks to bolster the economy, which has been devastated by the ongoing pandemic.
The news could sour support from many of the already-reluctant Republicans for additional direct payments for relief from the pandemic, which has ravaged the financial stability of many Americans as jobs are put on hold and layoffs continue.
The GAO said that payments to the dead were made in error as the Treasury Department and the IRS hurried to disburse some 160.4 million of these payments totaling $269 billion after the Cares Act was passed in March. The problem can be partly attributed to the fact that Social Security Administration has access to a complete set of death records, which were not accessible to Treasury and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which are responsible for making the payments.
The report recommended 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 agreed with a recommendation in the report that also said the government agency should consider “cost-effective options” to communicate how checks to ineligible recipients could be returned.
On May 6, the IRS announced on its website that stimulus payments issued to dead or incarcerated individuals should be given back, but according to the Post, the IRS has not taken any further steps to ensure the return of those payments.
The report elucidates that controls and filters were at times bypassed in an effort to quickly to pass legislation to buoy the economy amid the shutdown of American cities.
The report says that in an effort to respond urgently “tradeoffs were made,” but that “agencies have made only limited progress so far in achieving transparency and accountability goals.”