More than a million Americans who died received COVID-19 stimulus payments totaling $ 1.4 billion, a government watchdog said in a report to Congress released Thursday.
The finding is part of a comprehensive review of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic by the Office of Government Accountability, an independent nonpartisan agency of Congress. The report presents a clearer picture of what critics called a confusing display by the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department of more than 160 million payments worth $ 269 billion.
Congress passed a massive $ 2 trillion stimulus package, called the CARES Act, in March to soften the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic to American workers and businesses.
Eligible Americans received checks, called economic impact payments, based on their 2018 or 2019 income tax returns, or by completing a simple tax return. People who make up to $ 75,000 a year received checks for $ 1,200 and couples who make up to $ 150,000 and filed a joint tax return received $ 2,400, with an additional $ 500 per qualifying child. Payments decreased for those earning more than $ 75,000, with an income limit of $ 99,000 per person or $ 198,000 for couples.
The GAO report said Treasury officials said that, to fulfill the CARES Act’s mandate to deliver payments “as quickly as possible,” the Treasury and the IRS sent the first three batches of payments using policies and procedures. previous operations for stimulus payments “that did not include using [Social Security Administration] death records as a filter to stop payments to the deceased. “
GAO also reported that the IRS legal adviser had “determined that the IRS did not have the legal authority to deny payments to those who filed for 2019, even if they had died at the time of payment,” and had advised applying the same rules. for recipients who filed a 2018 return.
There was an initial delay when the IRS began sending the first round of payments, and relatives of deceased Americans across the country said they received coronavirus relief payments on behalf of the loved one. Families initially believed they could keep the payments, but the IRS updated its guidance in May to say that the people who died do not qualify for the coronavirus relief payments and “should be returned to the IRS.”
The GAO said in its report that the IRS does not currently have a plan to notify ineligible beneficiaries, which includes family members of the nearly 1.1 million deceased Americans who received a payment as of April 30. The oversight agency said the IRS should consider “cost-effective options” to notify ineligible recipients of how to return payments, which the IRS agreed to do.
The IRS, Treasury, and Small Business Administration did not immediately comment on NBC News. Treasury and IRS representatives referred NBC News to the responses they provided in the GAO report. SBA also provided the GAO report with comments.
President Donald Trump indicated earlier this week that he is open to another round of “very generous” stimulus payments as the US economy. USA He continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the House, led by Democrats, passed the $ 3 trillion HEROES Act that included another round of direct payments, but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to vote on the bill, as leaders say They want to wait to see what, if any, additional help is needed.
GAO’s report, COVID-19 Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts, reviewed the actions of various federal agencies to address the pandemic, from reporting national data on viral tests to distributing critical medical supplies to disburse aid funds and loans.
GAO also blamed the United States Small Business Administration for its management of the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which was created under the law to provide direct relief to small businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The program has come under fire for providing help to unwanted recipients, such as large publicly-traded companies. Many companies across the country have also complained that they were unable to access loans or did not receive adequate funds to keep their companies and employees afloat on the payroll.
GAO said the SBA is hampering data collection to show detailed information about the loan recipients.
The SBA has signaled they will provide PPP data to the watchdog agency, but first officials should look at the protection of recipients’ personal and proprietary privacy information.