WASHINGTON D.C. — Nearly 1.1 million coronavirus relief payments, totaling some $1.4 billion, went to dead people, a new government watchdog study reports.
More than 130 million so-called economic impact payments were sent to taxpayers as part of the $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package enacted in March. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, cited the number of erroneous payments to deceased taxpayers in its report on the government programs.
While the government has asked survivors to return the money, it’s not clear they have to.
The errors occurred mainly because of a lag in reporting data on who is deceased.
“When I heard the $1.4 billion, I was thinking, ‘was that all?'” James Angel, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said. “When you talk about out of a trillion dollars, that’s really a tiny drop in the bucket compared with the total size of the stimulus payments.”
The revelation of more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds erroneously paid out shines a light on the part of the government’s massive relief program in response to the pandemic. It follows disclosures that several major restaurant chains and other publicly traded companies had received emergency loans meant for the nation’s struggling small businesses.
The IRS didn’t use death records to prevent payments to deceased individuals for the first three batches of payments because of the legal interpretation the agency was operating under, the GAO report says.
The IRS asked in May for the money back from the deceased taxpayers’ survivors. Some legal experts have said the government may not have the legal authority to require that it be returned.
The relief payments were made to taxpayers based on the information filed on their 2019 or 2018 taxes. But it is considered a rebate on 2020 taxes. The government used the previous tax forms to help speed along payments to the public to offset some of the economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic.