Lawmakers question why dead people are getting coronavirus checks

Lawmakers question why dead people are getting coronavirus checks
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging the Trump administration to take action to prevent additional payments of coronavirus relief checks to dead people.

"While it is essential that our constituents receive stimulus payments quickly, these improper payments to deceased individuals represent significant government waste and a burden to constituents who mistakenly accept the payments," the lawmakers wrote in a letter Thursday to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinMcConnell in talks with Mnuchin on next phase of coronavirus relief On The Money: Supreme Court upholds NY prosecutors' access to Trump's tax returns, rebuffs Congress | Trump complains of 'political prosecution' | Biden rebukes Trump, rolls out jobs plan Mnuchin: Next stimulus bill must cap jobless benefits at 100 percent of previous income MORE, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig and Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul.

Lawmakers who signed the letter include Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Del.) and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) and Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosTime for a Democratic reckoning on race  Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts MORE (D-Ill.) and Greg GianforteGregory Richard GianforteInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Governors get reelection boost from COVID-19 responses MORE (R-Mont.).

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The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package that Congress passed in March provided for one-time direct payments to most Americans. Individuals making under $75,000 and married couples making under $150,000 are entitled to the full amount of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child under 17.

The IRS has moved quickly in getting out the majority of the payments, with Treasury and the IRS saying on Friday that they have delivered about 130 million payments. But the rollout of the payments hasn't been perfect, and one of the issues that has come up is that some people have received payments for dead relatives.

The IRS said on a frequently asked questions web page on Wednesday that payments made to someone who has died should be returned to the agency. It also provided instructions for how the payments should be returned. 

The lawmakers said that the issue of federal agencies making payments to the deceased is not new. They said that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has the most thorough database of people who have been reported to have died but that only a few federal agencies have access to that list. Systems that don't have access include Treasury's Do Not Pay system, which is used to help federal agencies prevent improper payments, the lawmakers said.

The lawmakers said they appreciated the IRS's guidance but that "additional questions remain about the steps needed to address this issue going forward."

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They asked Treasury, the SSA and the IRS to provide answers to several questions, including whether there are situations where relief checks sent to dead people would not be considered improper, how many payments were sent to dead people, what steps are being taken to prevent future improper payments to dead people and what death record databases were utilized before sending out payments.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPandemic highlights need for federal long-term care insurance Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress Five takeaways from PPP loan data MORE (D-Mass.) said in a separate statement Friday that nothing in the law requires people to return payments they've received for their dead relatives and that "the administration should be careful not to overreach in its implementation."

"This is a moment that requires people exercise their best judgement and humanity," Neal said. "A family that doesn’t need a deceased loved one’s check should return the money. However, some families receiving these payments could use the assistance to cover costs associated with losing a loved one due to the virus. People with that kind of need should be able to put the money to use as they grapple with the ongoing crisis.”

—Updated at 12:28 p.m.