Nearly 130 Austrians have been stunned to receive $1,200 cheques signed by none other than US President Donald Trump. Washington’s sudden generosity appears to be a result of a mistake in its Covid-19 relief package system.
Citizens of the small Alpine nation, located thousands of miles away from America, were baffled by the envelopes containing what was described as economic relief money from the US. One of the recipients, 73-year-old retiree Manfred Barnreiter, told local media he initially thought it was some sort of a scam.
However, a local bank confirmed the cheques were genuine, and the man was able to cash it in three days. And he certainly was not alone in receiving an unexpected financial boost from across the pond: three banks in just Upper Austria reported 128 of their customers cashing such cheques – indicating that more than $150,000 was paid out to the Austrians by the US.
Back in March, the US passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – a $2 trillion economic relief package to help the nation cope with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic that involved direct payments to certain categories of US citizens. People earning less than $99,000 a year (or $198,000 for couples) were eligible for $1,200 payments per adult, and an additional $500 for each child under 17.
Austrian bankers believe that the development was a result of some mistake in the US economic stimulus package system intended for Americans. Gerhard Meissl, the head of data quality and digitalization at Upper Austria’s Sparkasse bank, said that some recipients might have worked or lived in the US at some point, while Paul Kaiser, head of portfolio management at Linz’s Raiffeisen bank branch, blamed it on some administrative error in the US system.
Barnreiter had briefly worked in the US as a waiter back in the 1960s, and even receives a small pension from America. However, inexplicably his wife, who has never even been to the US, also received a cheque.
The Austrian cases are far from the first blunders in the distribution of the US stimulus payments. In June, the US Treasury sent cheques to a million dead people amounting to a whopping $1.4 billion due to an error arising from the fact that the Treasury and the tax authorities did not compare their data.
In another incident, thousands of foreign workers who had already left the US also received $1,200 cheques in early August. One tax preparation company told NPR that its clients in 129 countries, including Brazil, Canada, China, India, Nigeria and South Korea, had received the US payment.
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