The federal government has sent stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans — including deceased individuals.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that about 1.1 million payments, totaling almost $1.4 billion, mistakenly have been sent to dead people.
Those errors come as the U.S. government has rushed out stimulus payments to millions of Americans in recent months.
The stimulus checks were authorized by Congress with the $2 trillion CARES Act, about $300 billion of which went to the payment program.
The payments are based on either 2018 or 2019 tax returns, so some individuals who filed still received payments, even though they have since passed away
The IRS has made it clear the government wants that money back.
“A payment made to someone who died before receipt of the payment should be returned to the IRS by following the instructions about repayments,” according to the agency.
There is one exception — sort of. If a married couple filed their taxes jointly, but then one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse can keep their own payment. But they must return the portion of the money paid to the decedent, the IRS said.
The GAO report calls for further action from the IRS. It points out that the agency does not currently have a plan on how to reach out to people who need to return the money to instruct them to give it back.
“IRS should consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients on how to return payments; without which, ineligible recipients who would otherwise want to return the payments may be unaware how to do so,” the GAO report states.
The GAO also calls for having the Social Security Administration share its death data with the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service, which administers the stimulus payments, to help prevent these errors.
It’s not the first time that the government has sent money to dead people. Thousands of deceased Social Security beneficiaries received stimulus checks following the financial crisis of 2008-09.