Not all government waste is intentional. Some of it is just carelessness. Exhibit A is a December Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found that the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not accurately confirm the deaths of beneficiaries. The upshot is that payments continue to be made to people who are dead — sometimes for decades. If this revelation isn’t sobering enough, note a large chunk of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill contains past last week is earmarked for the SSA.
And it’s not just Social Security payments that are affected, notes The Foundry. “Multiple other federal agencies that pay benefits — from federal pensions to payments to farmers and the disabled — rely on SSA’s flawed death data.”
So where do these payments to the grave end up? The answer in many cases is in the hands of surviving relatives. The post’s author, Laura Trueman, writes:
Raymond O’Dell made news this week when he was sentenced for collecting his dead mother’s Social Security benefits for 23 years. O’Dell collected $188,000 in benefits, while building a successful Taco Bell franchise. His accountant put his net worth at $4 million (including $431,000 in cash). This week, he was sentenced to pay back the benefits, along with a $20,000 fine, and will serve six months in prison.
O’Dell is not unique. In Washington state, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan convicted five people for collecting a dead parent’s Social Security benefits. One man personally disposed of his mother’s body in a rural area and never reported her death; he collected her benefits for 9 years. More examples are cited in the SSA’s “Deceased Payee Fraud; Strange But True,” released this month.
According to the GAO report, SSA does not verify the death reports from all of its sources. As a result notification of about 500 deaths came to the SSA long after the person’s death. Another 150 people were apparently engaged in “back to the future” time travel — their date of death preceded their date of birth!