Some U.S. COVID-19 stimulus checks mistakenly sent to elderly Okinawan pensioners, experts say to “return the checks without cashing”

Some U.S. COVID-19 stimulus checks mistakenly sent to elderly Okinawan pensioners, experts say to “return the checks without cashing”

May 31, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Ryota Nakamura

It was discovered May 30 that when the U.S. sent out $1,400 checks to U.S. citizens as part of their COVID-19 economic stimulus package, some checks were also mistakenly sent out to elderly Okinawans who collect social security from the U.S. Toshiharu Ichikawa, representing the Foreign Pension Support Center, an organization that is an expert in Japanese and American retirement benefits such as social security and pensions, said, “I think the many people who received these were sent them by mistake,” and indicated there is chance that if the checks were cashed, the U.S. government could demand repayment and even reduce retirement benefits, and is calling on those who receive the checks to send them back.

The checks are referred to as “Coronavirus economic impact payments” (EIP), and were sent to U.S. citizens, both domestically and living abroad, and permanent residents in the US as long as their income fell under a certain level determined by the IRS. U.S. military personnel and other people in Okinawa who hold U.S. citizenship were also correctly sent stimulus payments.

Meanwhile, the IRS has listed on their website that “non-resident aliens” do not qualify for the payments, meaning that for the most part Okinawans and other Japanese citizens would not receive the payment. Even if they at one time received social security benefits from the U.S., they still would not qualify. However, it seems that while they were not intended targets for the stimulus payments, the amount of US pension benefits received by some elderly Okinawans qualify as “under the income threshold” for the checks, and as a result many mistakenly received them.

Japanese people who receive U.S. social security include those such as people who were sent to the U.S. to work in a Japanese company’s local office there. The stimulus checks started arriving in Okinawa to those who qualify for U.S. social security starting at the end of May. The IRS prioritized getting the checks out quickly for this round of stimulus payments, and as a result many people were sent checks by mistake. There was no letter of explanation accompanying the checks, however, a letter signed by President Biden followed soon after explaining that they were economic impact payments due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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