The Senate passed a package this week meant to stop taxpayer dollars from going to people who are deceased.
Federal authorities sent checks totaling $1.4 billion from the virus relief package to over 1 million dead people, a government watchdog said.
The new package—containing two separate bills, S.4104 and S.1333—requires the U.S. Treasury to use Social Security data to reclaim stimulus money sent to dead people.
It also requires federal agencies to use a database of those reported to have died that the Social Security Administration maintains.
“Congress owes it to the American people to be fiscally responsible with their resources, and I am pleased my legislation passed without objection to implement an easy fix to let Treasury reclaim $1.4 billion in money that was improperly sent out in the first place,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who introduced one of the bills, which passed by unanimous consent after no lawmakers blocked it.
“As elected officials, one of our most important responsibilities is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and the passage of the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act represents a good victory in what has been a long, seven-year fight,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement.
Carper and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) re-introduced the other bill last year; it was originally introduced in 2013.
Support for the bills grew after the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an agency that reports to Congress, said last week that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Treasury Department “moved quickly” to disburse over 160 million economic impact payments but sent nearly 1.1 million payments totaling some $1.4 billion to dead people.
The IRS and Treasury Department didn’t use the database because of a legal interpretation, the watchdog said, urging Congress to consider legislation that would let the Social Security Administration share its full death data with the Treasury Department.
Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the GAO, told a House panel after the report was released that family members of dead people are supposed to return the money.
Dodaro also recommended that the IRS contact people who received the payments.
“What happened was: IRS initially determined that deceased people, or anybody who filed a return in 2018 or 2019 should be paid, so they knew they were paying people who were deceased,” he said. “Then it became known publicly, Treasury then reevaluated that position and stopped it.”
Tom Ozimek and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.