- 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.
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.