Why are the deceased receiving coronavirus stimulus checks?

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Friday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) joined Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Reps. Greg Gianforte (R- Mont.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) in leading a group of lawmakers who are raising concerns regarding recent reports that deceased individuals are receiving COVID-19-related economic impact payments as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In a letter sent to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig and Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul, the bipartisan, bicameral group asked each agency to take immediate action to prevent further improper CARES Act payments.

“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 receive the payments,” the lawmakers wrote.

Specifically, the lawmakers asked how many improper economic impact payments have been disbursed and asked for information on the steps that are being taken to recover these funds, prevent future improper payments of funds to deceased individuals and protect and support taxpayers who received improper payments through no fault of their own.

This letter builds on the work that Kennedy and Carper have done to curb improper payments to the deceased. Last year, they introduced legislation, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, that would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals.

In their letter, the lawmakers noted, “Unfortunately, this is not a new issue. . . . According to an Office of Personnel Management Inspector General report, agencies made a total of $601 million in improper payments from 2006 to 2010 to federal retirees later found to have already died. In total, the Administration in its most recent budget request estimates that payments to deceased individuals cost taxpayers over $800 million per year.”

The SSA maintains the most complete federal database of individuals who are reported to have died. However, only a small number of federal agencies have access to this official list, and most federal agencies rely on a slimmed down, incomplete, and less timely version of the death information. In addition, most Inspectors General lack access to the complete death information. As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased.

In addition to Kennedy, Carper, Gianforte and Bustos, the letter was signed by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Reps. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) and Gil Cisernos (D-Calif.).