An elderly Japanese man received a $1,400 stimulus check from the U.S. government in the mail, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, in what appears to be a mistake in the $1.9 trillion program to relieve the economic impact of the pandemic.
The 79-year-old, who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture and has not been identified, did not know why he received the check in April.
He thought the payments could be somehow related to the U.S. Social Security benefits he has been receiving as someone who used to work in the United States. His wife also got a $1,400 check, the report said.
For five years from 1978, the man worked in the U.S. office of a Japanese electronics company and paid Social Security taxes. Based on the U.S.’ 2005 Totalization Agreement with Japan, which provides benefits for those who work or have worked in both countries, he and his wife each receive monthly Social Security payments of $500, according to the Japanese newspaper.
Complications with the stimulus program have arisen before, including slow payments as well as mispayments to 1 million dead people.
“The United States has so much money to spare that it gives it to foreigners like me who lived there about 40 years ago,” he joked, according to the Asahi Shimbun report.
A 68-year-old former office worker in Chofu, Tokyo, and his wife also received stimulus checks in April and May, the newspaper said.
Similar to the man in Kanagawa, the 68-year-old used to live in New York in the 1980s and paid taxes. At the end of 2020, he applied for a pension in the U.S., which he thought might have led to the stimulus payment, Asahi Shimbun reported.
President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which includes the most recent stimulus payments, was signed into law on March 11.
U.S. citizens, as well as lawful permanent residents with Social Security numbers, are largely the only groups eligible for a stimulus check, although there are some exceptions for people with mixed immigration status.
Based on the Japanese news reports, it is unclear whether the Japanese recipients of the checks should have received them.
According to Donna Kepley, president of an international tax consulting firm called Arctic International LLC, it is illegal to cash the checks for non-U.S. citizens, she told Asahi Shimbun. She said the IRS likely made a mistake when mailing these payments.
In response to an inquiry from the Asahi Shimbun, the IRS recommended that those ineligible to cash the checks mail it back to the IRS tax center in Texas.
The 79-year-old man in Kanagawa, who was told by the U.S. embassy in Japan to call the IRS for questions, said he did not intend to cash the checks but would keep them.
“Only because I don’t want to go through all the trouble to make an international phone call,” he said.