- A report from the Government Accountability Office said that the IRS and Treasury Department gave $1.4 billion in stimulus checks to deceased people.
- Several checks have also been issued to incarcerated Americans, and the IRS is requesting that those be returned, though many are questioning their authority to do this because the CARES Act never specifically stated that incarcerated people were ineligible.
- This comes amid debate over a potential second round of stimulus checks, which President Donald Trump has reportedly said he supports.
- However, not everyone in his circle agrees with him. In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which would give a second round of checks out, but many believe Republicans in the Senate will not be interested.
Checks Go to Deceased Americans
As many Americans say they still haven’t received their stimulus checks, a Government Accountability Office report revealed Thursday that around $1.4 billion dollars in stimulus payments made their way to deceased Americans
The GAO’s report claimed that by April 30, 1.1 million payments totaling the hefty $1.4 billion had been sent. The Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department typically use data like death records from the Social Security Administration to prevent fraud, but allegedly did not use death records to stop payments when they started sending the first batches of checks.
“[The] IRS working group charged with administering the payments first raised questions with Treasury officials about payments to decedents in late March as Congress was drafting legislation,” the GAO report said.
“IRS counsel subsequently determined that IRS did not have the legal authority to deny payments to those who filed a return for 2019, even if they were deceased at the time of payment.”
Back in March, Congress passed the CARES Act to boost the country and its economy as it first began to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the legislation, individuals with an income under $75,000 would receive a $1,200 check. Married couples who filed their taxes together and had a combined income under $150,000 would receive $2,400 and $500 for each eligible child.
The IRS’s website says that checks issued to someone who has died should be returned, however, they do not have a plan in place to ensure all these checks come back to them.
Checks Issued to Incarcerated People
These are not the only checks that may have been sent in error. The IRS is looking to get back stimulus money it sent to incarcerated Americans. It is unclear exactly how much many has been sent to inmates. According to TIME, The Kansas Department of Correction has intercepted over $200,000 so far, while Idaho and Montana combined have intercepted around $90,000. Not all states are releasing that data, though.
Whether or not the IRS can legally demand to get that money back is subject to debate. The IRS claims that incarcerated people are not eligible for stimulus checks, saying it is being consistent with Social Security policies. However, others believe that inmates should be eligible because the CARES Act did not specifically exclude incarcerated people in its language.
“I think it’s really disingenuous of the IRS,” tax attorney Kelly Erb told TIME. “It’s not a rule just because the IRS puts it on the website. In fact, the IRS actually says that stuff on its website isn’t legal authority. So there’s no actual rule — it’s just guidance — and that guidance can change at any time.”
On top of this, while substantial amounts of checks have made their way to unintended places, as of June 8, 35 million stimulus checks had yet to be issued. As for why many checks are sitting in limbo, in some cases the IRS is struggling to obtain peoples’ information. A large population of Americans living outside of the U.S. are also waiting to receive their payments.
Possibility of Second Check
All of this comes as talks for a second round of stimulus checks are on the table, though far from set in stone. President Donald Trump has stated his support for them, per a Tuesday report by the Washington Post. According to the Post, Trump sees them as not just beneficial to the economy, but also to his reelection efforts come November.
Others in his circle have been less eager. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has stated that any upcoming stimulus efforts should focus more on jobs. White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow told Fox Business that whatever comes next should “target those folks who lost their jobs and are most in need,” rather than all Americans.
The odds of all Americans receiving another check are still unknown. In May, when the House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill called the HEROES act. That legislation included money for state, local and tribal governments, as well as hazard pay for workers, money for testing and more. It also included another round of direct payments to individuals of up to $6,000 per family, in some cases focused on including those who may have been excluded from the first payments.
Those payments would again be $1,200 checks with the same income threshold, but this time around dependents would also get a $1,200 check. However, the Senate still needs to look it over, and Republicans are not as interested in the HEROES Act as Democrats are. The White House previously threatened to veto it.
The Senate is expected to start discussing what another stimulus package would look like in July. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month that he anticipates that this upcoming stimulus package will be the last. He also has generally opposed the HEROES Act, as well as extending the extra $600 those on unemployment are receiving, which is set to expire in July.
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.