WASHINGTON — The Trump administration handed out over a billion dollars in coronavirus stimulus checks to dead people.
That overly generous outlay of federal assistance to the deceased, totaling $1.4 billion to a million dead folks according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, shows just how rushed and sloppy the government’s attempts to stave off economic collapse from the coronavirus pandemic have been.
Federal authorities have been criticized for handing juicy loans intended for small businesses to large national restaurant chains, like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. But at least the owners of those establishments were alive.
This time, the rush to deliver checks bearing Trump’s signature to millions of Americans struggling with unemployment and economic devastation ended up including a truly stunning amount of stimulus for those who really, probably, don’t need it as much as the living do.
Let’s face it: the dead don’t even pay rent.
The GAO, a federal watchdog, blamed the error in its report Thursday on a failure to share Social Security Act death records with the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, which sent out individual stimulus checks of up to $1,200 this spring in an attempt to ward off a full-scale economic collapse as states across the country issued shut-down orders.
“We maintain that providing Treasury with access to SSA’s full set of death records, and requiring that Treasury consistently use it, could help reduce similar types of improper payments in other circumstances,” the government watchdog agency said in a report released Thursday.
Isolated reports had already emerged that some checks were arriving addressed to individuals who had recently died. But the report on Thursday indicated the problem was truly vast, and much bigger than anyone had acknowledged before.
The IRS has announced that anyone receiving a check addressed to a deceased family member should return the money.
In a helpful Q&A on its website, the IRS asks: “Does someone who has died qualify for the payment?” Answer: “No.”
The size of the mistake illustrates just how monstrously huge the coronavirus bailout was in the first place.
A billion dollars may sound like a lot to accidentally give to the dead, but with a program this large, it’s a drop in the bucket. The IRS and Treasury made 160 million payments worth $269 billion to taxpayers as of May 31, the watchdog said. So the $1.4 billion is only about half of one percent of the total.
Cover: An arranged photograph of a United States Federal Government Coronavirus stimulus check, also known as the 'Economic Impact Payment' in Silver Spring, Maryland on May 24, 2020. (Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA via AP Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.