The Trump administration has some lessons to learn before sending out any new coronavirus stimulus checks. More than 1 million checks for a combined $1.4 billion were distributed to dead people, according to a government watchdog report covering coronavirus relief spending approved by Congress as of April 30. In the rush to disburse $269 billion to 160.4 million people "as rapidly as possible," as mandated by the Cares Act, Treasury officials followed procedures put in place for 2008 stimulus payments and "did not include using death records as a filter," per NBC News. The Treasury doesn't have access to the Social Security Administration's full set of death records, as the IRS does, though it gained temporary access upon discovering that some payments were being made to dead people, reports the Washington Post.
IRS officials raised concerns about the issue before payments were distributed to eligible Americans who'd filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return. But "counsel determined they did not have the legal authority to deny payments to people who had filed a return, even if they were deceased," per the Post. On May 6, the IRS said payments to deceased or incarcerated individuals must be returned—but it doesn't yet have a plan in place for recouping the money, according to the Government Accountability Office report released Thursday. The IRS has now agreed to "consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients how to return payments," as recommended in the report. Meanwhile, Congress is directed to grant Treasury access to the full set of death records and "require that Treasury consistently use it, to help reduce similar types of improper payments." (Read more stimulus funds stories.)