Hundreds of Austrians were surprised and confused when opening their mail in recent months to find envelopes from the U.S. Treasury with $1,200 stimulus check inside
Dozens of Austrians have successfully cashed the checks despite being ineligible for the economic impact payments, reported The Washington Post based on local coverage in Austria by public broadcaster ORF. “I open the mailbox and suddenly see the United States Treasury inside and a check for 1,200 US dollars with the dedication: economic impact payment, President Donald J. Trump,” said one recipient, 73-year old retiree, Manfred Barneiter. His wife, who has never been to the U.S., also received a $1,200 payment.
Banks across Austria confirmed cashing more than 200 checks in recent days. Paul Kaiser, head of portfolio management at Linz’s Raiffeisen bank branch, said the payments were likely an administrative error, perhaps similar to the one in which the U.S. government accidentally sent checks to thousands of deceased American.
Another banking official, Gerald Meissl, head of data quality and digitalization at Upper Austria’s Sparkasse, pointed that some of the Austrian recipients were U.S. taxpayers at one point, while others had lived in the U.S. for some time, including as au-pairs. This would still not explain why some individuals, like Barneiter’s wife, received checks.
Error Not Isolated To Austria
The problem extends beyond Austria’s borders. NPR reported in August that thousands of foreign workers who came to the U.S. on temporary work visas had received erroneous stimulus checks. One tax firm told NPR that “it has clients from 129 countries who mistakenly received stimulus checks, including Brazil, Canada, China, India, Nigeria and South Korea.”
One explanation is that many of these workers filed the wrong tax return. “I would say probably anywhere to a third to a half [of first-time foreign filers] are filing the wrong return,” a Georgia attorney, Clayton Cartwright, who specializes in immigration tax law and has a background in accounting told NPR. The issue is especially acute if non-resident aliens use software, like TurboTax, to file their taxes because it only intended for use by U.S. residents.
The U.S. Treasury Department acknowledged the problem and told NPR that it is “exploring possible options” to prevent that from happening again.” One concern ineligible recipients have is that keeping the stimulus checks could jeopardize their visa status or green card application, making it more difficult to re-enter the U.S.
A Drop In The Bucket
While the cases in Austria and around the world demonstrate some errors, they represent a drop in the bucket of the overall stimulus dollars that the U.S. disbursed. Given the speed in which the coronavirus pandemic hit and the economy stalled, there was a fairly strong argument to prioritize speed and not let perfection be the enemy of the good in distributing payments.