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WASHINGTON – As many Americans receive $1,200 payments from the federal government to help offset the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, some have been surprised to discover that their dead loved ones also were sent the funds. 

“Ok this is insane, but just the tip of the iceberg,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who shared an image of a text from a friend that read, “Dad got his stimulus check of $1,200. He died in 2018. Does he have time to spend it online?” 

Financial adviser Scott Salaske tweeted that the deceased spouse of one of his acquaintances also received the money. 

“Is the government that desperate for people to spend money?” Salaske wondered. 

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Another Twitter user, Karrie Higgins, said her mother received a $2,400 deposit and assumed that was because her father died. 

“Does anyone know how this will be handled?” Higgins asked. “Seems like they will want $1200 back.” 

But Higgins’ mother can actually keep the check,  according to Nina Olson, the founder of the Center for Taxpayer Rights and former taxpayer advocate for the IRS. 

Olson told USA TODAY that because the payments are based on taxpayers’ 2019 returns, or 2018 if they have not filed yet, people whose spouses died in those years would be eligible for a payment. And Olson said that under the CARES Act – the massive $2.2-trillion stimulus plan that authorized the payments – a person who gets more than they have been entitled to cannot have their credit reduced “below zero” when they file their 2020 return. In other words, they would not have to repay the $1,200 when they filed in 2020. 

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Story continues

Ok this is insane, but just the tip of the iceberg. This is a direct text to me from a friend. I called to confirm this actually just happened. pic.twitter.com/GBRPcmYMXW

— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 15, 2020

Similarly, because a person is eligible to file jointly the year their spouse died they would also receive a payment for their dead spouse.

“That was really consciously written into the law,” Olson said. “It’s rough justice. They’re using the data that’s available to get money into the system. They know in advance that some payments will go out that shouldn’t go out.” 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office said it is looking into the matter. 

“The American government paying money out to dead people, or to dead patients, or dead welfare beneficiaries is years and years old,” said Malcolm Sparrow, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2010 to serve on a panel to oversee the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and help detect fraud and waste.

Sparrow, now a professor of public management at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, explained that the payments may happen in part because of out-of-date government data on who is deceased. If those records aren’t up to date, the government can’t filter out the people who should not be getting a payment with complete accuracy. 

“So that’s one potential explanation: that it’s just out of date or inaccurate death records being transferred from one agency to another,” he continued. “The other potential explanation is a lot more worrying: that other people are exploiting the identities of the dead to file false claims,” he said.

He said such fraud is common in the health care arena, because, “When you create a system where you can submit a claim electronically and it gets paid electronically, you open up the door for massive computerized fraud.”

More: Trump’s name to be printed on $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks going out to Americans

This is not the first time stimulus checks have been sent to the deceased.

In 2009, as part of a $13 billion economic stimulus package, the Obama administration sent 52 million $250 one-time payments to citizens as an “Economic Recovery Payment,” or ERPs.

A report from the Office of the Inspector General found that over 70,000 recipients were deceased before the payment certification date. More than half of those checks were returned, according to an article by the Wall Street Journal at the time.

According to the 2010 audit, some of those ERP’s were sent as the Social Security Agency “was unaware of beneficiary deaths” before it certified the payments. It “relied on questionable data in its payment records,” and failed to review all available records, the report said.

However, it is not immediately clear what will happen with those who are receiving checks for deceased relatives and loved ones during the COVID-19 crisis.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the IRS did not have guidelines on its website for payments sent in error to the deceased. The IRS did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment. 

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Deceased people are receiving stimulus checks today.

My grandmother passed away in 2018 — and $1,200 was deposited in her bank account today. pic.twitter.com/XkhyiGxBgj

— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 15, 2020

I was widowed in March 2019. I filed my 2019 as married filing jointly and that my husband was deceased. I just received $2400 from the stimulus package… what happens to widows like me who are getting the $2400? Will they want the $1200 back? #widow #IRS #COVID19 #coronavirus

— Shannon (@MsPrincessShann) April 15, 2020

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Dead Americans are receiving stimulus checks



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