Audit: US sent $1.4B in virus stimulus payments to dead people

In this April 23, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump's name is seen on a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, in San Antonio. President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and now the IRS are urging people who received coronavirus relief payments for a deceased taxpayer to return the money to the government. But legal experts say there is no law requiring people do that. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A government watchdog says nearly 1.1 million relief payments totaling some $1.4 billion went to dead people in the government’s coronavirus aid program.

More than 130 million so-called economic impact payments were sent to taxpayers as part of the $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package enacted in March. The Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm, cited the number of erroneous payments to deceased taxpayers in a report published Thursday on the government programs.

The errors occurred mainly because of a lag in reporting data on who is deceased — a lapse that tax experts say is almost inevitable.

The IRS didn't use death records to prevent payments to deceased individuals for the first three batches of payments because of the legal interpretation the agency was operating under, the GAO report says.

The IRS asked in May for the money back from the deceased taxpayers’ survivors. Some legal experts have said the government may not have the legal authority to require that it be returned.

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