A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent official agency that reports to Congress, has warned of this as part of a review of how the federal government spent nearly $3 trillion to stimulate the U.S. economy to soften the effects of the pandemic, which crippled the country from late March to early May.
The delivery of economic relief has been plagued by delays, technical problems, and disputes over who received the aid (large companies accessed financial assistance for troubled SMBs). It is now known that the Treasury Department sent $1.4 billion to people who died. According to the GAO, the problem was that the U.S. Treasury has access to data on deceased persons in the Social Security system, but the Treasury, which made the payments, does not.
Amid the rush and urgency to send money to Americans, with unemployment skyrocketing and consumption at a minimum, some of it was sent to those who were not owed. Treasury sources told The Washington Post that disbursements had to be made “as quickly as possible”. The checks also bore the signature of Donald Trump, in a decision that was widely criticized at the time. The erroneous payment to the deceased occurred in the first three remittances of checks, which accounted for 72% of all those sent until the end of May. Afterwards, the errors were noted and corrected in the rest.
The GAO now requires the Treasury Department to establish a communication system to obtain the return of checks. But it is difficult to know how many have been forgotten in a mailbox, how many were direct deposits into inactive bank accounts, or how many have ended up on family menus at McDonald’s.