At least 18 billionaires and more than 200 ultra-wealthy people reportedly received emergency federal stimulus checks that were meant to help struggling families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Billionaires — including corporate raider Ira Rennert, George Soros, and outgoing Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor — received payouts in the first round of stimulus checks, according to ProPublica, which drew on leaked files from the Internal Revenue Service.
Soros’ representative said he returned the check, according to ProPublica, while Rennert didn’t respond to questions.
The uber-wealthy qualified for the stimulus checks, which were sent out as part of a $2.2 trillion relief package called the CARES Act, because the government determined eligibility solely on taxable income.
But many of the mega-rich who received the checks came in under the annual income threshold, which was $75,000 per year for singles and $150,000 for couples, thanks largely to business write-offs.
In total, some 270 wealthy taxpayers who collectively disclosed $5.7 billion in income, according to their previous tax return, were able to use such massive tax deductions that they qualified for stimulus checks, according to ProPublica.
Those tax deductions were so great, that all 270 people actually listed negative income for the year, the outlet reported.
The other ultra-wealthy recipients of the checks included Terrence Pegula, worth an estimated $5.7 billion and owner of both the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
Timothy Headington, an oil mogul, real estate developer and executive producer of hit films like “Argo” and “World War Z,” is worth an estimated $1.4 billion but still received a stimulus check, according to ProPublica.
Robert Dart, heir to the Dart family, which owns Dart Container Corp., the maker of the iconic red Solo cup, also got a check even though he’s no longer a US citizen and filed his tax returns from an address in the Cayman Islands, the report said.
Dart has returned his check, a spokesperson told ProPublica.
Former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld was also among the recipients, the report said, as was Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, a private military company and government contractor.
That billionaires received stimulus funds that were meant for the middle-class show how ill-equipped the US tax system is to deal with the ultra-wealthy whose income, driven mostly by business ownership, is more protected than those who live on wages, ProPublica said.
“The tax code is simply not equipped to tax billionaires fairly, or even ensure they pay anything at all,” Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, told the outlet.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank, called ProPublica’s findings a “disgrace” that shows “why we need real tax reform.”