Every once and a while, some local paper somewhere will report on a family member continuing to cash the social security checks addressed to a mother or father - or some other family member - long after they have died due to a glitch in the SSA system. Sometimes family members can go on cashing checks for years or even decades.
Unsurprisingly, the federal government and the SSA are much more prone to these types of mistakes than many probably realize. According to a recent report from the Office of the Inspector General, the SSA agreed to pay out $125.2MM to more than 2,500 people whose deaths had not been properly recorded.
Oftentimes, these mistakes led to millions of dollars in additional payments. The internal watchdog performed the audit to determine if the SSA was checking its files of deceased against death records maintained by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The audit identified 3,084 current beneficiaries "whose personally identifiable information matched that of a deceased individual in the CMS death data," the IG report states.
What's more, even after the OIG provided this information to the SSA in February 2020, the agency's staff had only managed to terminate payments to 2,679 of them. The SSA also determined it had paid out $125.2MM in benefits after beneficiaries' deaths. Correcting the discrepancies helped save another $33.9MM in aditional improper payments over a 12-month period.
SSA staff also reported that 142 of the beneficiaries reported to them as dead by the CMS database were, in fact, alive and well.
In another branch of the study, the OIG selected 50 of the abovementioned cases where deaths weren't accurately reported, and tried to figure out where the SSA went wrong. In almost all the cases, they determined that SSA staff had been alerted to a beneficiaries' death, but they failed to correctly log the record.
"We found SSA had previously received death information for 42 beneficiaries from CMS and/or states but did not add the death information to its records or terminate the beneficiaries' payments," the OIG reported. "In 12 of the 50 cases we reviewed, SSA received the beneficiaries' death information, and SSA systems sent death alerts to the beneficiaries' servicing field offices for verification. However, for unknown reasons, SSA employees cleared the death alerts without posting the death information to SSA records."
In a few instances, incorrect dates of death were recorded, most likely due to a clerical error. Oftentimes it was either te birthday or another date being incorrectly substituted as the date of death.
In others, the agency said it couldn't determine how the incorrect data had bee inputted.
Still, regardless of how it happens, the fact that the SSA can't be depended upon to adequately manage a program that is desperately underfunded, especially with the retired population on the brink of an explosion.