The Treasury and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which distribute the payments, do not have access to the Social Security Administration's full set of death records

By Rachel DeSantis
June 25, 2020 01:13 PM

In its attempts to boost the economy, the U.S. government disbursed more than 1 million stimulus payments to dead people — an error that cost more than $1.4 billion, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The GAO, Congress’ independent watchdog, shared its findings in a press release Thursday, and said that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury made nearly 1.1 million payments to decedents as of April 30.

"The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury moved quickly to disburse 160.4 million payments worth $269 billion," the release said, though getting those checks into the right hands proved tricky at times, as they faced “risks related to making improper payments to ineligible individuals, such as decedents, and fraud."

Though the IRS has access to the Social Security Administration’s full set of death records, the Treasury and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service — which distribute the payments — do not, the release stated.

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The GAO recommended Congress provide the Treasury with those records, and require that they use it “consistently” in order to “reduce similar types of improper payments” in the future. It also said the large amount of payments highlights the importance of using “key safeguards” when disbursing government assistance.

The IRS said in an FAQ in late May that any payment made to someone who has died should be returned to the IRS. The agency directed people to the Money Network Cardholder Service in Atlanta, though it remains unclear how the IRS is expected to notify decedents as recommended by the GAO.

The payments were part of a Congress-approved $2.6 trillion in emergency assistance money meant to be given to people, businesses, healthcare systems and state and local governments amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The GAO said its report was compiled using data and documents from federal agencies, interviews with federal and state officials and industry representatives, and available economic, health and budgetary data.