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Post Misrepresents Which Administration Sent Stimulus Checks to Dead People

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Quick Take

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, some stimulus checks were sent to people who had died. The issue was explained in government reports and the media when it happened in 2020. But a social media post has resurrected the issue and falsely claimed that it occurred during the Biden administration. It actually happened during the Trump administration.

Full Story

Disinformation dealers often rehash old claims in order to stir up reactions from their followers on social media. For example, one recent post on Facebook revisited an issue from 2020 and added a new, false twist.

The post came from OpenTheBooks.com, a project of the nonprofit organization American Transparency, which has recently been featured by two conservative outlets, the Epoch Times and Newsmax, that have a history of spreading false claims. The post said: “Biden paid 2.2 million dead people $3.6 billion during the covid pandemic.”

It’s not true that the payments happened during the Biden administration. But here’s what is true about the old issue that the post is reviving.

On March 27, 2020, shortly after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, then-President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, into law. That act offered several programs aimed at easing the economic impact of the pandemic, including one that provided stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to eligible individuals, plus $500 per child under age 17.

Most of those checks — the first three batches, which made up about 72% of them — had been sent out by May 31, 2020, according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General published June 25, 2020. And some of those checks had gone to people who were dead, the report said.

“Typically, IRS uses third-party data, such as the death records maintained by the [Social Security Administration] to detect and prevent erroneous and fraudulent tax refund claims,” the report explained. “However, Treasury and IRS did not use the death records to stop payments to deceased individuals for the first three batches of payments because of the legal interpretation under which IRS was operating.”

Lawyers for the IRS thought that they couldn’t deny payments to people who had filed taxes in 2018 or 2019. Because the CARES Act mandated that the payments be distributed as “rapidly as possible,” the U.S. Treasury and the IRS “used many of the operational policies and procedures developed in 2008 for the stimulus payments which did not include using death records as a filter to halt payments to decedents,” according to the Government Accountability Office report.

As a result, as of April 30, 2020, almost 1.1 million payments worth about $1.4 billion had gone to dead people, according to the report.

This news was covered by the media at the time, so there’s nothing new here.

A later report, issued on May 24, 2021, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, found that as of July 16, 2020, before Biden took office, 2.2 million payments totaling $3.5 billion had gone to dead people. That’s where the social media post got its numbers.

The OpenTheBooks.com post linked to its report “The COVID Aid Waste Compendium,” which cited a San Francisco Chronicle article about IRS payments to dead people. That news article, which relied on the inspector general’s report, also said the IRS had later asked for those payments back, and that the second- and third-round stimulus payments approved later by Congress specifically excluded people who had died.

In the inspector general’s report, researchers removed duplicate payments and payments that had been cancelled or returned as undeliverable, as well as those that had been returned voluntarily. They arrived at a final figure of 1.4 million payments totaling $2.5 billion that had gone to dead people.

So, the Facebook post from American Transparency uses estimates from an old report about an issue that has already been publicized. And it names the wrong presidential administration — this happened under the Trump administration, which ended Jan. 21, 2021.

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. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.


U.S. House. “H.R.748, CARES Act.” (As passed into law 27 Mar 2020.)

U.S. Department of the Treasury. “About the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act.” Accessed 20 Mar 2024.

U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Economic Impact Payments.” Accessed 21 Mar 2024.

Government Accountability Office. “COVID-19: Opportunities to Improve Federal Response and Recovery Efforts.” 25 Jun 2020.

Konish, Lorie. “About $1.4 billion in stimulus checks sent to deceased Americans.” CNBC. 25 Jun 2020.

Faler, Brian. “The IRS thought it wasn’t allowed to withhold stimulus checks from the dead. So it paid more than 1 million of them.” Politico. 25 Jun 2020.

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “Implementation of Economic Impact Payments.” 24 May 2021.