U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a new report detailing how the Trump Administration sent more than $1 billion in improper payments to deceased Americans as part of the Coronavirus relief spending Congress passed earlier this year.
Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March to help address the severe economic consequences of the pandemic, which included $1,200 emergency relief fund payments for income-eligible taxpayers across the country.
Peters’ report – backed by the findings of Congress’s independent investigative agency – confirms more than 1.1 million payments totaling $1.4 billion were made to deceased individuals.
The report recommends the Administration and Congress take immediate actions, including passing the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, legislation cosponsored by Senator Peters and unanimously approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to prevent future improper payments of this nature.
“The federal government has consistently failed to address problems that have led to sending mistaken payments to deceased people, and I have long advocated for commonsense measures that would prevent many of these wasteful payments and save taxpayer dollars,” said Senator Peters. “Unfortunately, following the largest stimulus bill in our nation’s history, the Trump Administration failed to confirm payments were going to those who needed help the most and sent more than $1 billion in hard-earned taxpayer dollars to deceased individuals. Congress and the Administration must take immediate steps to address this wasteful spending and enact bipartisan, commonsense reforms to prevent future improper payments.”
READ THE FULL REPORT: “Billions Wasted: No Excuse for Taxpayer Dollars Going to Deceased People.”
In May, Peters and colleagues pressed the Administration to take immediate action following widespread reports that households across the country received $1,200 stimulus checks for deceased family members. Peters’ report confirms that stimulus payments were delivered to more than 1 million deceased Americans – a massive misuse of government funds that could have been prevented had the Treasury Department implemented processes to screen for deceased people before distributing payments. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service put the burden on members of the public to deal with these mistaken payments, yet failed to provide timely and thorough advice on what to do if a deceased family member had mistakenly received relief funds.
Improper payments to deceased individuals occur because the federal government cannot reliably ensure that all recipients of such funds are alive. Peters’ report examines Treasury’s lack of due diligence to ensure recipients of stimulus payments are alive, and calls on Treasury to answer for its actions. Continued government oversight has also found that the death data available to federal agencies is not always accurate, and that many agencies charged with providing federal benefits do not have access to the most up-to-date information they need to prevent improper payments to deceased individuals. In response to these alarming findings, Peters’ report urges Congress to immediately pass the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals Act, which would safeguard taxpayer dollars. The bill would improve the accuracy and completeness of the Social Security Administration’s death data, allow federal agencies access to the complete death database, and require the use of death data to curb billions of dollars in improper payments.
This report builds on Peters’ previous work to curb improper payments – including duplicative, excessive, unnecessary and improperly documented payments – which cost the federal government as much as $175 billion a year. Prior to the CARES Act payments, the Trump Administration estimated that improper payments made to deceased individuals cost taxpayers an estimated $800 million a year.