WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some Americans have been surprised to discover that their dead loved ones have been sent stimulus checks in recent days, while others in need have been unable to receive or cash their checks.
“Okay this is insane, but just the tip of the iceberg,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), who shared an image of a text from a friend that read, “Dad got his stimulus check of $1,200. He died in 2018. Does he have time to spend it online?”
Scott Salaske, a financial advisor, tweeted that the deceased spouse of one of his acquaintances also received the money.
“Is the government that desperate for people to spend money?” he wondered.
Another Twitter user, Karrie Higgins, said her mother received a $2,400 deposit and assumed that was because her father died, according to a report from USA Today. She wondered where or not the government would want their $1,200 back, the typical amount of the check.
According to Nina Olson, the founder of the Center for Taxpayer Rights and former taxpayer advocate for the IRS, Higgins’ mother can keep the check. She told the newspaper that because the payments are based on people’s 2019 returns, or 2018 if they have not filed yet, those whose spouses died in those years would be eligible for a payment.
If a stimulus reaches a surviving spouse, an IRS spokesman told The Washington Post that the payments may not have to be returned, depending on the circumstances, although the full details are still being worked out.
“We are aware of all the various issues involving surviving spouses and other heirs and are still working on them,” said IRS spokesman Eric Smith.
Under the CARES Act, the massive $2.2 trillion stimulus plan that authorized the payments, a person who gets more than they have been entitled to cannot have their credit reduced “below zero” when they file their 2020 return.
In other words, they would not have to repay the $1,200 when they filed in 2020.
“That was really consciously written into the law,” Olson said. “It’s rough justice. They’re using the data that’s available to get money into the system. They know in advance that some payments will go out that shouldn’t go out.”
The matter is being looked into by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s office.
“The American government paying money out to dead people, or to dead patients, or dead welfare beneficiaries is years and years old,” said Malcolm Sparrow, who was appointed by former President Obama in 2010 to serve on a panel to oversee the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and help detect fraud and waste.
He said that the payments may happen partly because of out-of-date government data on deceased people as well, although there is also concern that some may be exploiting the deceased to file false claims.
In 2009 as part of the $13 billion economic stimulus package, the Obama administration sent money to more than 70,000 recipients who were deceased. More than half of those checks were returned, according to the Wall Street Journal.
More than 80 million Americans had been sent stimulus checks as of April 15, but many of the most needy members of society, including Social Security recipients and veterans, have not gotten their money yet, according to thousands of inquiries received by The Washington Post.