Senate Passes Bill to End Payments to Dead People

Jason Raff/

The bill follows an audit that found the IRS sent $1.4 billion in stimulus checks to deceased individuals.

The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would mandate that the federal government stop paying dead people.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. John Kennedy, R-La. and Tom Carper, D-Del., follows an audit by the Government Accountability Office that found the IRS sent out $1.4 billion in stimulus checks to deceased individuals.

The Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act would force the federal government—now attempting to recollect stimulus payments sent to more than 1 million dead people—to improve the quality of and expand access to the government’s death database to avoid similar scenarios in the future.

“Simply put, this is unacceptable,” said Carper, who has introduced versions of the bill in previous Congresses. “It seems as though Treasury did not take the steps needed to prevent these improper payments, and, further, as reported by GAO, components of the Treasury Department responsible for the payments do not even have access to the most up to date information about deceased persons available in the federal government.”

Kennedy called the legislation “common sense,” adding, “Every so often, Washington actually saves taxpayer dollars instead of watching that money circle the bureaucratic drain.”

While Treasury’s recent improper payments are egregious in size and scale, the government has a long history of issuing checks improperly to dead people. A 2018 inspector general audit of the Social Security Administration, for example, revealed the agency issued benefit checks totaling $40 million to 500 dead people in three states.

As with the stimulus check debacle, the errors result largely because of poor coordination between agencies that track death records and those that issue financial benefits. The Treasury Department, for example, does not have access to the federal government’s death database, so it can’t double-check whether individuals receiving checks are still alive to cash them.

The Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act would address this problem, mandating all appropriate agencies have access to the complete record of death data. In addition, the bill would require agencies that issues payments to Americans to crosscheck their records with death data. Finally, the bill attempts to improve the quality of the nation’s death records. For example, it mandates the Social Security Administration screen for “extremely elderly” individuals. A 2015 IG report identified 6.5 million people over the age of 112 years old listed as “living” in the Social Security Administration’s database despite estimates that fewer than 100 such individuals that age are currently alive globally.   

The House has not yet taken up the bill.