October 11, 2016 - The Social Security Administration (SSA) paid deceased federal employees $1.7 million in benefits for an average of seven years after they died.
According to an audit by the Inspector General (IG), the error occurred due to the SSA’s failure to crosscheck beneficiaries’ death files with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). As a result, the deaths were not logged in SSA records. The office manages the administration of retirement benefits and other services for government workers.
“The erroneous benefit payments account for a handful of cases out of the millions the SSA processes each year,” said David W. Magann, a prominent attorney in Tampa, Florida, whose firm specializes in Social Security disability law. “However, this latest incident throws a spotlight on how the administration needs to change its practices when handling records to make sure such mistakes do not happen in the future.”
Investigators found the SSA made the erroneous payments of old-age, survivors and disability insurance benefits to 35 individuals. Among them, one beneficiary had died in 1991, but the Office of Personnel Management never reported the death to Social Security.
The inspector general claimed the SSA would have likely paid the deceased individuals around $258,000 in benefits over the coming year if the discovery had not been made.
Calling the $1 Million $700 Thousand Dollars an “extremely small number,” the SSA said it “represents less than one-tenth of a percent of total benefit payments.” In the administration’s official response to the audit, it promised to do better and ensure the situation is resolved by the beginning of the next fiscal year. The SSA said, “Over the years we have made, and will continue to make, enhancements to ensure our death data is accurate and to stop payments when we receive confirmed death reports.”
In one example that was cited, a Georgia woman received benefits until 2015 even though she had died in 2007. Although her son reported her death to the SSA, he was able to receive his mother’s benefits checks totaling $68,192 over seven years.
He must now repay $63,446 in penalties to the government.