- 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.
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.