Steven Mnuchin has said that relatives of dead people who have received a $1,200 (£964) coronavirus stimulus payment should send back the cheques.
“You’re not supposed to keep that payment,” said the US treasury secretary on Tuesday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
“We’re checking the databases, but there could be a scenario where we missed something, and yes, the heirs should be returning that money.”
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The payments were part of the most recent $2.2 trillion (£1.7 trillion) coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by Donald Trump last month.
It is not clear how many payments were made to deceased people, or what measures the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will use to recover the money.
On Tuesday, Mr Mnuchin suggested that the US Department of the Treasury will check its own databases to trace the payments based on 2018 or 2019 tax returns.
The stimulus checks are legally considered a new tax credit for the 2020 tax year, based on 2018 or 2019 tax returns, meaning some deceased Americans could have been issued with payments.
The Journal reported one case where a woman received a stimulus payment for her husband who died in 2018.
Republican congressman Thomas Massie meanwhile said on Twitter that a friend had received a $1,200 coronavirus cheque about two weeks ago. “Ok this is insane, but just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Opponents of the government have criticised the IRS’s failure to check whether or not people had died since their last tax return before issuing the funds.
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