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Prank Posts Mislead on Direct Government Payments for Coronavirus


Quick Take

The Trump administration has proposed a plan to provide direct payments to some U.S. citizens, beginning April 6, to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus. But a prank post circulating on Facebook falsely states that the government is sending out checks every week and claim forms are already available.


Full Story 

The Trump administration recently announced plans for a $1 trillion emergency stimulus package to alleviate economic strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic. According to a proposal by the Treasury Department, the funding includes loans to airlines and small businesses as well as direct payments to individuals.

The proposal states that the individual payments would come in two rounds, with a total of “$250 billion to be issued beginning April 6” and “$250 billion to be issued beginning May 18.” Each payment to individuals “would be fixed and tiered based on income level and family size.”

On March 19, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said adults would initially receive $1,000 and children $500 within three weeks, and a second payment of the same amount in six weeks if the economic disruption continues.

Details about these payments have not been finalized, and legislation still needs to be drafted and approved by Congress.

But a series of viral Facebook posts wrongly claim that the government is sending out hundreds of dollars per week to each U.S. citizen “starting from” either March 16 or March 17, depending on the post.

All US Citizens are Entitled to $700 USD per week to stay at home to avoid the spread of COVID-19 novel Coronavirus, starting from March 17, 2020,” states one post, which has garnered more than 5,000 shares. “The Government grant pay is accessible to all no matter employment status.” 

The post, accompanied by a “BREAKING NEWS” visual, includes a link that supposedly allows people to “claim” their money. The link leads to a photo of a gorilla with its middle finger up — revealing that the post is a joke. The same picture was used as a prank in another series of misleading posts about workplace and school closings due to the coronavirus, which we reported in early March.

Many commenters understood that the recent posts weren’t accurate. But with the Trump administration’s proposal to give out direct payments in the future, it’s important to sort fact from fiction.

The Treasury Department proposal states that there will be two payments, not weekly checks, starting on April 6 and May 18. It does not detail how much money each individual will receive, stating only that the amount will be determined in part by “income level and family size.”

In a March 19 interview on “Mornings with Maria” on Fox Business, Mnuchin did provide dollar amounts for each of those payments — up to $1,000 for adults and $500 per child — but that is subject to negotiations with Congress before it can become law.

A day earlier, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech that “a single $1,000 check” isn’t enough.

Update, April 1: The president signed the $2 trillion stimulus package into law on March 27. Adults with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less will receive $1,200 (married couples with an adjusted gross income of $150,000 or less will receive $2,400, plus $500 per child). The payment amount will scale down by income, phasing out at $99,000 for single individuals and $198,000 for couples without children.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Cook, Nancy, and Ben White. “Emergency stimulus to soar above $1 trillion.” Politico. 17 Mar 2020.

Fichera, Angelo. “Coronavirus Prank Falsely Tells of Workplace, School Closings.” FactCheck.org. 5 Mar 2020.

Henney, Megan. “Mnuchin says White House working to send $1,000 checks to most Americans within 3 weeks.” Fox Business. 19 Mar 2020.

“Mnuchin: Coronavirus will be destroyed and economy will come roaring back.” Fox Business. 19 Mar 2020.

Restuccia, Andrew, Andrew Duehren and Lindsay Wise. U.S. Seeks to Send Checks to Americans as Part of Stimulus Package.” Wall Street Journal. 17 Mar 2020.

“Schumer Floor Remarks On Immediate Need To Pass Legislation To Address Coronavirus Outbreak And Impact On Health Of Americans And Economy.” Senate Democrats website. 19 Mar 2020.

Stage 3 Proposal.” Department of the Treasury. Accessed 18 Mar 2020.

Werner, Eric, Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis. “White House expresses support for immediate cash payments to Americans as part of coronavirus stimulus package.” Washington Post. 17 Mar 2020.