I like the GAO – the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO, according to its website:
“is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the ‘congressional watchdog,’ GAO examines how taxpayer dollars are spent and provides Congress and federal agencies with objective, reliable information to help the government save money and work more efficiently.”
And the good folks at the GAO were certainly providing “objective, reliable information” when they advised that Congress should “provide Treasury with access to the Social Security Administration’s full set of death records, and require that Treasury consistently use it.”
Unfortunately, the GAO provided this objective, reliable information just a tad too late.
“Tad too late” meaning they provided that information only after the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had sent coronavirus stimulus payments to almost 1.1 million dead people.
Totaling nearly $1.4 billion:
I can’t resist calling a grave error.
More than a million grave errors.
And this isn’t new news. Back in April the Washington Post reported,
“While the living wait for much-needed funds, the IRS has rushed out stimulus checks to the deceased. Payments have gone out to surviving spouses and to bank accounts that relatives kept open to settle a dead loved one’s estate.”
At the time, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the heirs of the deceased who received stimulus money should give the funds back.
Sure thing, Steve! And like Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, you “should give” yourself a brain:
How this SNAFU came about is a quintessential example of our government’s left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. According to the June 25 Washington Post article,
“The problem relates partly to the fact that, while the IRS has access to the Social Security Administration’s full set of death records, the Treasury Department and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service – which actually issue the payments – do not, the GAO said.”
Did I say “right hand”? The government’s left hand doesn’t even know there’s a right hand.
Here’s another part of the problem, says a story in USA Today:
“The IRS’s legal counsel determined that the agency did not have the legal authority to deny payments to people who filed a return for 2019, even if they were dead at the time of payment, the GAO said.”
So our government both knowingly and unknowingly sent relief checks to dead people.
Thorough. They were, indeed, thorough.
In an attempt to rectify this mess, the IRS posted this helpful information on its website:
First, what is with the word “likely”? “Likely” means “such as well might happen or be true; probable.”
So the IRS is saying, “Taxpayers might not qualify or probably won’t qualify”? Why not just say, “If you’re one of the following, no money for you”?
And second, did the IRS then just sit back, now able to confidently point at the listing of “deceased individual” and say, “See? We told all those dead people they probably won’t qualify for a relief payment. We TOLD them! It’s not OUR fault if they didn’t listen!”
The nearly 400-page GAO report goes on to offer some other insights, including this:
“…the IRS does not have plans to take additional steps toward recouping the payments.”
And, says Forbes,
“It’s still not clear whether survivors who received the checks in error are legally required [to return them].”
So, nearly $1.4 billion of our tax dollars is out there, somewhere.
Some people will return the checks, while some will look at this as a windfall and say, “Thanks, dead Uncle Ed!”
And – are you ready?
Round two of relief checks may be in the works:
Yes, here’s what that could look like: