Washington — The US Treasury sent cheques designed to help stimulate the economy devastated by Covid-19 to more than 1- million dead people, according to a government watchdog report on Thursday.

The independent Government Accountability Office said that, since the Treasury began sending out cash to taxpayers in April to counter huge job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, 160.4-million economic impact payments worth $269bn have been made.

However, by April 30, when 120-million payments had been completed, payments worth $1.4bn had been sent to 1.1-million dead people, according to the GAO.

It was not clear how many of those were due to mistakes in the Treasury's systems and how many were deliberate fraudulent claims.

The payments of up to $1,200 a person were automatic for most people who filed taxes for 2018 and 2019 and for people on various government retirement and benefits programmes.

“Some of these taxpayers may have been deceased at the time the payments were delivered,” it said.

The report noted that while the Internal Revenue Service, the US tax agency, has death records of Americans, the Treasury and its Bureau of Fiscal Service, which determined the stimulus payments, did not.

On May 6 the IRS issued a statement saying payments to deceased people should be returned.

However, the GAO noted that “IRS does not now plan to take additional steps to notify ineligible recipients on how to return payments.”