Hundreds of millions of dollars the IRS paid in coronavirus stimulus checks sent to dead people have not been repaid, according to a new audit Monday.
Nearly 70% has been returned, a Treasury official told the GAO. But that still leaves about $500 million outstanding.
Treasury is pondering what to do about those who have been slow to voluntarily cancel the checks or repay, the GAO said. One option is to send notices demanding repayment.
“However, Treasury has not moved forward with this effort because, according to Treasury, Congress is currently considering legislation that would clarify or change the eligibility requirements of the payments, including payments to the deceased and incarcerated,” the GAO said.
A bill has already passed the Republican-led Senate that would help stop improper payments to dead people by allowing the Social Security Administration to share information from its death lists with the Treasury Department.
That bill is awaiting action in the Democrat-controlled House.
The $1.6 billion in wrongful stimulus payments is a tiny fraction of the $2.6 trillion Congress has approved for pandemic relief. As of the end of June, $1.3 trillion of that had been spent, GAO said.
Some of that money helped blunt the worst of the pandemic, the federal watchdog said.
More broadly, the auditors assessed the pace of the virus and deaths.
Infections, which had reached about 70,000 a day in late July, dropped to about 50,000 a day by mid-August.
GAO also tracked the overall death rate in the country and found in April there were tens of thousands of additional deaths each week beyond what should have been expected.
Auditors said that could expose unreported coronavirus deaths, but it also could point to other fallout from the disease, such as heart conditions that would normally have been caught, but weren’t because doctors’ visits were curtailed during the pandemic.
GAO said it has 75 audits underway related to the government’s coronavirus response, ranging from vaccine development to how the strategic stockpile of medical equipment was deployed.
The payments to dead Americans were revealed in the GAO’s previous coronavirus update in late June.
The revelation came as the House and Senate were sparring over another round of coronavirus relief, and the embarrassment fed into resistance on the part of some lawmakers to dole out trillions more dollars.
Initially, GAO reported 1.1 million payments to dead people, totaling $1.4 billion. Monday’s new audit says it was actually 1.2 million payments totaling $1.6 billion.
At the time, the IRS said it was posting a notice asking those who received the checks to return them. But the agency didn’t have plans to take proactive steps to alert them.
The GAO has suggested reaching out to collect all wrong payments.
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