$2 Billion Still Unspent On Stimulus Debit Cards

Jul 31, 2020

A generic Economic Impact Payment debit card.
Credit EIPcard.com

The South Dakota bank that issued stimulus debit cards on behalf of the federal government says about one-third of the money remains unspent. 

MetaBank, headquartered in Sioux Falls, issued 3.6 million cards loaded with a total of $6.42 billion beginning in mid-May. 

Last week, in a third-quarter earnings call, MetaBank said the cards still had balances totaling $2.08 billion. 

“The amount of funds that are still on there surprised us a little bit,” said MetaBank executive Glen Herrick.  

MetaBank also said about 80 percent of the cards have been activated, which would mean about 20 percent of them – roughly 720,000 cards – have not been activated. 

Someone on the earnings call asked if the government will eventually take back the unspent money. Herrick responded, “So it’s really the Treasury’s call on when they might pull back funds, so we don’t want to speak for them or try to determine, they’re still seeing how this progresses.” 

MetaBank referred SDPB’s follow-up questions to a public relations firm that declined to comment. So did Fiserv, a company MetaBank works with to distribute and service the cards. The Treasury Department did not return messages. 

The cards were mailed in plain envelopes from a Fiserv subsidiary called Money Network Cardholder Services. Some recipients mistook the envelopes for junk mail and discarded them. Some other people have said their card never arrived, or came printed with the wrong name on it. 

The federal government began issuing Economic Impact Payments from the congressional CARES Act in April. The payments were intended to help Americans weather the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

People whose bank information was on file with the IRS got auto-deposits. Other people initially got paper checks. But the government eventually decided to send debit cards instead, reasoning that it would be faster and safer. 

The payments were up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples, plus up to $500 for each child. 

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.