The Government Accountability Office revealed in a new report that almost 1.1 million dead people received coronavirus relief checks from the government that totaled nearly $1.4 billion.
The GAO explains that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Department “moved quickly” to send out over 160 million payments to Americans as authorized by the CARES Act in March, but “faced difficulties delivering payments to some individuals, and faced additional risks related to making improper payments to ineligible individuals, such as decedents, and fraud.”
Because the CARES Act mandated delivery be made as “rapidly as possible,” the Treasury and IRS relied on procedures that were implemented in 2008 to administer the payments. Even though the GAO identified in 2013 that the IRS “allowed payments to deceased individuals and recommended corrective actions,” that was bypassed in the rush to get checks to Americans.
“The number of economic impact payments going to decedents highlights the importance of consistently using key safeguards in providing government assistance to individuals,” the report details. “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.”
The two departments did not use death records in the first three sets of payments — 72 percent of total number as of May 31 — “because of the legal interpretation under which IRS was operating.”
The GAO cited a Treasury official in the Office of Tax Policy who said “Treasury was unaware the payments may go to decedents.” But IRS counsel had “determined that 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,” and simply advised that the agency “should exercise discretion” by looking at recipients who had filed a 2018 tax return but had not filed in 2019.