More than 1 million dead people received $1.4 billion worth of stimulus payments: 'The government made a mess'

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- New data has shown more than a million stimulus payments worth $1.4 billion went to people who are deceased. Two Bay Area women say they received a payment that is payable to their late husbands.

As I have reported, the Internal Revenue Service says families should return that money. But it didn't say they "must." This leaves many families in a quandary.

Some saved it, while others tried to mail it back. But even they are not sure where the money ended up.

"It's not my fault that my husband died, and they're sending me this money that I don't know what to do with, you know?" said Yvonne Kennedy of Santa Rosa. She received a $2,400 stimulus check. Half for her and half for her husband, Robert. Even though he passed away last year.

"It was like a $2,400 check and I didn't want to return all of that, and never get my share. So, I didn't know what to do," she said.

RELATED: IRS stimulus checks sent to millions of dead people, here's how to send it back

Kennedy consulted her bank and her congressman, and says they told her to deposit all of it.

"I did deposit it, but I'm not gonna use his half. Late summer, early fall, the trees need trimming. That's the time to do it. And if they haven't contacted me by then, I'm just gonna go ahead and use it," she said.

San Jose resident Therese O'Connor got a check for herself and her late husband, too.

"The government made a mess. They sent it to my dead husband. I'm trying to do the right thing, so it's up to me with their mistake to correct it, which I don't think it's fair," said O'Connor.

She followed IRS instructions and wrote a personal check to the government for $1,200. She sent it by certified mail to the IRS office in Fresno. But the post office lost the tracking. No one has cashed her check. Now she's worried.

RELATED: Report: Treasury paid $1.4B in stimulus checks to 1.1M deceased Americans

"Five weeks, six weeks and nothing has happened," said O'Connor. "I'm really afraid it has been stolen, misplaced, still waiting somewhere. Maybe it is at the IRS. I'm worried what am i going to do. I cannot afford to write another $1,200 check."

The US Government Accountability Office determined the IRS sent about $1.4 billion worth of checks to dead people. More than a million of them.

So, why did dead people get paid? The IRS knew some recipients were deceased.

The G.A.O. determined the problem occurred as the IRS and Treasury department raced to get more than 160 million payments to Americans to shore up the economy and finances as the pandemic hit.

RELATED: Coronavirus: IRS sends stimulus checks to deceased Americans, warns relatives forgery is a federal crime

The IRS did not cross-check the list of recipients with the social security administration death rolls.

The problem was discovered as thousands of checks were already sent out.

It's still not clear if the IRS will try to claim that money back.

The IRS taxpayer advocate has recommended against going after the families. However, if there is another stimulus bill, the treasury department says it will be sure to filter out dead people.

She contacted 7 On Your Side. Turns out that IRS office in Fresno has been mostly shut down in the novel coronavirus pandemic, so nobody has been opening the mail. Hopefully, O'Connor's check is sitting there.

As for Kennedy, she's hanging on to that money -- for now.

"If it is mine, maybe I'll get my trees trimmed so they won't fall on my house," she said, laughing.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

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