Stimulus checks were sent to billionaires and other ultra-rich Americans, investigation finds

Nation/world
In this April 23, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump's name is seen on a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

In this April 23, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump’s name is seen on a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

At least 18 billionaires and 250 other ultra-wealthy Americans received stimulus checks from the CARES Act last year, an investigation by ProPublica found.

The stimulus checks were the cornerstone of the sweeping $2.2 trillion COVID-19 rescue package that was signed into law in March 2020 as the pandemic first began gripping the U.S. The funds were meant to help struggling Americans cope with virus-related closures that shut down entire sectors of the economy, leading to a staggering amount of job losses and pay cuts.

But ProPublica sifted through a trove of IRS records and found billionaires like Ira Rennert, CEO of Renco Group with an estimated net worth of $3.7 billion, was one stimulus check recipient. Investor and philanthropist George Soros (worth an estimated $8.6 billion) and his son Robert also both received CARES Act payments — though a spokesperson for the family told ProPublica they both returned their checks.

The billionaires were able to receive CARES Act assistance because qualifiers were pegged to income, not wealth. Any taxpayer who made less than $75,000 qualified for the full $1,200. Any married couple who earned less than $150,000 collectively received $2,400.

So despite being some of the richest people on the planet, billionaires could technically still qualify for the pandemic assistance if they reported a loss in income on their taxes. ProPublica found the billionaires in question did exactly that.

Timothy Headington, for example, made $62 million in 2018, but wrote off $342 million in deductions, leaving him with a negative net income. Headington is an oil company executive and movie producer. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.4 billion.

The passage of the CARES Act sent out a first round of direct payments to American taxpayers in April 2020. Those checks were followed by another round of payments in December 2020, and then a third round under the American Rescue Plan in 2021.

The IRS also started issuing monthly payments to families with children in July 2021 as an advance for the increased child tax credit.

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