Millions of Americans have received federal coronavirus crisis relief checks this week, including some people who are no longer living, according to multiple reports.
Some people posted on social media that they had received messages from their deceased relatives’ banks that a direct deposit had been made to their accounts.
“Ok this is insane, but just the tip of the iceberg,” Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted, attaching a photo of a text from a friend.
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
One widow whose husband died last year asked on Twitter if the government will want the money back after she received the $2,400 payment for married couples, Fox News reported.
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
As of Thursday morning, the Internal Revenue Service website didn’t say what people should do with payments sent in error.
The guidelines to receive the money — formally known as an Economic Impact Payment — could explain how the error might occur.
The IRS determines eligibility by looking at the adjusted gross income on a household’s 2019 tax return to determine the size of the payment.
If that tax return isn’t available yet, the IRS will look at the adjusted gross income on the 2018 tax return.
“The IRS claims it is going to take the data from your most recent tax return that is available,” Adam Markowitz, vice president of Howard L. Markowitz PA CPA, told Market Watch.
“If a taxpayer filed jointly with a deceased spouse in 2018 and has not filed a 2019 tax return yet, the IRS likely has no safeguard in place to ensure that it won’t make that payment to someone who is no longer with us.”
This is not the first time the federal government has issued stimulus checks to the dead.
After the Obama administration passed a $13 billion economic stimulus package in response to the Great Recession in 2009, about 89,000 checks, worth $250 each, were sent to dead or incarcerated people, according to The Atlantic.
About 41,000 checks issued in error were later returned, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
It’s against the law to spend Social Security money that was meant to go to someone else, but it is rare for people to be prosecuted over a small amount of money.
“At least one person has been prosecuted for cashing a stimulus check not issued to them, in one of the few accusations of stimulus fraud to date,” The Wall Street Journal reported in 2010.
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