There was a time in Ruth Carrothers' life when $1,400 would have been the answer to a prayer.
But now, all she wants to do is give it back.
Growing up in Du Quoin in the 1950s and 60s as the second oldest of Clyde and Betty George's seven children, times were lean for Ruth and her siblings. Clyde had hurt his back and couldn't work, and the family struggled.
"There wasn't a whole lot of money," Ruth says. At the family home on Jefferson Street, they grew vegetables in the garden and sold them to neighbors for extra money.
Having $1,400 drop on them would have been, "like Christmas!" she said, chuckling.
Christmas came last Friday, in the form of a $1,400 stimulus check mailed to the old Jefferson Street house, where Ruth's brother Gary lives. It was addressed to Elvin George, the youngest of the seven George kids.
Elvin has been for gone for more than 34 years. Tragically, on March 3, 1986, he was walking on the Illinois Central tracks near the Franklin Street crossing when he was hit by a southbound Amtrak passenger train and killed. He was 22.
Ruth and Gary, and Ruth's husband Rodney are all mystified. The IRS didn't send Elvin George stimulus money in 2020, so they are at a loss why the error would be made now.
Gary brought the check to Ruth, who lives less than a mile away, deciding she would know what to do. Ruth called her banker, who printed out instructions on how to mail stimulus checks back to the IRS.
The IRS has officially refused to comment, saying that they cannot speak publicly about issues involving individual taxpayers.
According to a Government Accounting Office report issued last June, in the first round of stimulus payments 1.1 million deceased people were issued payments totaling $1.4 billion.
But according to reports, most of those people had died relatively recently, not more than three decades ago.
A Washington Post story from June 2020 quoted the GAO as saying the payments to dead people came as the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS rushed to disburse payments after the Cares Act was passed in March 2020.
The GAO told the Post that while the IRS had access to the Social Security Administration's full set of death records, the Treasury Department and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service -- which actually issue the payments -- did not.
"You have to wonder how many other checks like this went out and somebody cashed them," Ruth said. So far, it's a good question without an answer.
She said Elvin probably would have found the mistake funny. But she considers it serious enough.
"I want it sent back, so someone who actually needs the funds can receive them," she said.
Ruth and Gary are all that remain from the original George family. Their father, Clyde, died in 1972 and their mother Betty in 1990. The oldest brother, James Edward George, passed away in 1999, brother Virgil in 1973, brother Paul in 2019 and Elvin in 1986.
"I had five brothers and I'm down to one," Ruth Carrothers said.
How to return money
How to return a paper check to the IRS:
• Write "Void" in the endorsement section on the back of the check.
• Mail the voided Treasury check immediately to the appropriate IRS location for Illinois, which is: Philadelphia Refund Inquiry Unit, 2970 Market St., DP 3-L08-151, Philadelphia, PA 19104
• Do not staple, bend or paper clip the check.
• Include a brief note explaining why the check is being returned.
If you have already cashed the check or it was a direct deposit:
• Submit a personal check, money order, etc., immediately to the appropriate IRS location for your state (see above).
• Make the check/money order payable to "U.S. Treasury" and write "2020EIP," and the taxpayer identification number (Social Security number, or individual taxpayer identification number) of the deceased recipient of the check.
• Include a brief explanation of the reason for returning the EIP.