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I-TEAM: IRS fumbles, sends $1.4 billion to the deceased in stimulus checks

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The IRS sent stimulus checks families across the country during the beginning of the pandemic to help get through the financial hardships it brought. But the federal government made a blunder in its rush to get money into the hands of the American people.

Survivors who lost their spouses over the last two years are paying the price.

On Thursday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the IRS issued more than $1 million in payments to deceased people.

Now the IRS wants its money back, but here’s the problem: some of those checks were sent to surviving spouses, people like the mother of our I-TEAM reporter Liz Owens.

“Whose name was on the check?” Liz asked.

“Both mine and my husbands,” Donna Owens said. Mr. Owens passed away in December.

The IRS sent stimulus checks to families based on 2018 and 2019 tax filings, but according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the IRS didn’t check with Social Security to see who may have passed away in that time period.

“I didn’t try to cash it. I felt it was, well, because it was for $2,400,” Donna said.

Which is the stimulus payment amount for married couples. Remember: it was $1,200 for an individual.

“So, I sent a copy of the death certificate and the check and asked them to reissue it just in my name,” Donna said.

Months later, she is still waiting on the IRS to send her the correct stimulus check.

“Absolutely I could use it,” Donna said. “I am not trying to save as much as I can because I am now on a fixed income with dad’s Social Security.”

Had she cashed the check, she would now have to send half of that money, $1,200 back to the IRS.

The IRS posted on its website the money had to be returned in May, get this the GAO found the IRS does not currently plan to take additional steps to notify ineligible recipients on how to return the payments.

The watchdog group also expresses concern that ineligible payment recipients who do not visit the IRS website or do not have internet access may not be aware of the process to return the payments. In all- the IRS sent $1.4 billion to decedents.

“I’m glad I did what I did. It’s rather them owing me than me owing them,” Donna said.

Those who do owe and already spent the money could now face financial strain from the very source meant to relieve financial strain.

The IRS told the GAO it had no choice but to send the checks out to decedents under the law. And in turn, the GAO is encouraging the IRS to mail letters to families informing them to return the checks.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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