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Federal stimulus checks: No forwarding address for some recipients

Arthur Keyser died in November 2018, which the government apparently knew, Janet Williams notes, BECAUSE IT SAYS SO RIGHT ON THE FACE OF THE $1,200 CHECK THEY SENT HIM. 

Janet Williams, of Roscoe Village, shows the $1,200 federal stimulus check made out to her late stepfather, Arthur Keyser. Photo retouched to obscure some address information.
Janet Williams, of Roscoe Village, shows the $1,200 federal stimulus check made out to her late stepfather, Arthur Keyser, right, who died in November 2018. Photo retouched to obscure some address information.
Provided.

I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the abbreviation “DECD,” although I’m pretty sure most could guess, especially when it appears after a name.

But for those who don’t know, it means “deceased.” As in dead.

So you can imagine Janet Williams’ surprise last week when she received a $1,200 federal stimulus check in the mail made out to her late stepfather, “Arthur Keyser DECD.”

Keyser died in November 2018, which the government apparently knew, Williams notes, BECAUSE IT SAYS SO RIGHT ON THE FACE OF THE $1,200 CHECK THEY SENT HIM.

It’s already been widely reported that the Treasury Department mistakenly sent out thousands of stimulus payments to dead people in its rush to get money out the door and revive the economy.

The explanation is there wasn’t time to cross reference the list of check recipients with the Social Security Administration’s death index, which is understandable to a point.

But couldn’t some computer whiz have fashioned a fairly simple program to weed out the people with “DECD” behind their names?

Keyser was hardly the only “DECD” person to get such a check with that fairly obvious clue printed right on the face. There have been similar anecdotal reports from other news outlets around the country, as well as from the mother-in-law of one of my bosses at the paper, which cinches it.

The question is what to do with such a check once it has been received.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal that dead people aren’t eligible to collect the $1,200 and that their relatives and estates should repay the money to the government. Presumably, if they didn’t receive the money by direct deposit, they should just send back the check.

But others are questioning Mnuchin’s authority to make that determination, arguing the law passed by Congress makes no provision for the federal government to claw back stimulus funds sent in error.

The IRS issued detailed instructions Wednesday on how to return stimulus checks by mail or pay them back if they’ve already been deposited.

Williams, who lives in Roscoe Village and works for a medical trade association, said she does not plan to return the check, but neither does she intend to cash it.

“It’s more trouble for me than it’s worth to send it back,” she said, noting there’s no harm to the U.S. Treasury as long as the check isn’t cashed.

Plus, she said, “It’s a nice souvenir.”

Williams said the check came to her home address because she has power of attorney for Keyser’s estate and filed a tax return on its behalf for 2018, which is what triggered the stimulus payment.

Williams sees the check as emblematic of the incompetence of the Trump Administration on full display during the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Donald Trump, along with Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
President Donald Trump, along with Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the East Room of the White House, April 28.
Evan Vucci/AP

“They don’t understand public health. They don’t understand managing a public health crisis. They don’t understand national security and working with others around the world on solutions,” she said. “This is just another example of their ineptitude.”

Although I share her dim view of the president, it must be pointed out in all fairness that there were similar problems when the Obama Administration rushed out stimulus payments during the Great Recession in 2009.

The Social Security Administration inspector general reported a year later that the government had sent $18 million in stimulus checks to 72,000 dead people.

So maybe this just falls under the general heading of nonpartisan bureaucratic incompetence in Washington.

It would seem likely that with so many people hurting financially right now that many of them are going to cash their dead relatives’ checks and worry about the consequences later.

Count Williams among those who are doubtful the government will ever see that money in its coffers again, despite President Donald Trump’s assurance during a briefing last week that: “We’ll get that back.”

“If they didn’t cross reference those names to begin with, how do we believe they’re going to eventually catch up with the people who cash them,” she said.

As for the check to her stepfather, she thinks about all the other people who could benefit from that money right now.