Every year, the federal government doles out millions of dollars to deceased Americans. Last year the Social Security Administration forked over $37.7 million in payments to people who were no longer alive. The problem is so severe that a bipartisan bill intended to squash fraudulent payments has been introduced.
A Louisiana woman cashed in her dead mother’s Social Security benefits checks for almost a decade. She purposefully took advantage of the government, and the SSA’s follow-up was so weak that she was able to get away with it. She was eventually sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution.
Scamming the government out of welfare money is a common crime. When the fraudsters take money sent to dead people, the government is suddenly complicit in their crime. Sloppiness shouldn’t exist at that level.
“It’s pretty simple: Don’t pay dead people,” Kennedy said in a statement.
In 2015 a watchdog noted the SSA listed a whopping 6.5 million people as being older than 112. Clearly, the government’s systems need to be updated. “It is a horror show, it’s scandalous and it’s outrageous,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said.
According to Fox News: “The Government Accountability Office’s audit of fiscal year 2015-2016 found $144.3 billion in improper payments across federal agencies, and identified payments to the dead as a substantial improper payment problem.”
Multiple activist groups have derided the government for its lack of oversight. It’s one of the few issues that people on both sides of the political aisle agree on. Millions of dollars in taxpayer money are being wasted because government officials are too lazy to check their work.
“The data exists of who is alive and who is not alive, but it’s not available to the people who write checks,” Norquist said. “It opens the door to corruption. It’s beyond silly and incompetent.”
The SSA has access to information on who died each year but it’s not seamlessly integrated. The proposed bill would make sure that every government agency had access to the same information that the SSA has.
The consequences run deeper than just misspent funds. The Drug Enforcement Agency is responsible for keeping track of the national list of physicians allowed to prescribe opioids. However, because the DEA sometimes receives shoddy information, an unscrupulous person could potentially use a dead doctor’s information to prescribe medication.
“Taxpayers deserve to know that we’re protecting their hard-earned dollars and I can’t think of a more egregious example of government waste than writing checks to dead people,” said in a statement.
The government is defending itself by claiming that the SSA isn’t equipped to safely share the data. Since the agency can barely use the data itself correctly, that may be true. That doesn’t mean, however, that the government shouldn’t have access to updated information about who has died. It just means that the SSA’s standards need to be raised.
“The security of their death data—data they are legally responsible for protecting— will be compromised when shared government-wide by SSA, as SSA is not a statistical agency, data collection sharing is not core to the agency’s mission, and it lacks the adequate resources to do so,” Shawn A. Webster, executive director of National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, told Fox News.
The defense is weak, however. The government has the resources to update their computer systems if they need to. Taxpayer dollars need to be people respected. People work hard for their money and it shouldn’t be used to line the pockets of criminals. When no one tries to steal the money, the government error is quickly reported. The problem occurs when an individual or group around the deceased decides to start cashing the checks.
President Trump inherited a deeply flawed system. There are almost too many problems to focus on. The bipartisan bill has a chance of succeeding in Congress, but it may not be enough to fix the problem. If the SSA paid out $37.7 million to dead people, and the agency supposedly has access to an updated death list, how much did other agencies pay?
Americans need to hold Washington accountable. When the deficit is in the trillions, it can be hard to keep track of where government money is flowing. However, the funds sent to deceased Americans represents a huge drain.
The problem is a technical one. The government needs to update and integrate its computer systems to allow all agencies to have access to the death record.