November 4, 2013

A living wage for the dead? Costly flaws plague U.S. system

In the past few years, Social Security paid $133 million to beneficiaries who were deceased.

By David A. Fahrenthold
The Washington Post

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“Most people on the outside think, ‘Well, that’d be real easy, just to get two government agencies to compare notes,’ “ he said. “Well, it’s not.”

Now, after years of inattention, President Barack Obama and two senators have laid out ideas to improve the system. In his 2014 budget, Obama requested $22 million to improve the death reports that come in from states by upgrading their systems to transmit faster and more accurate data.

In the Senate, Carper and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have written a bill that would require all federal agencies to check the Death Master File before paying benefits. It would also give all agencies access to the full file, not just the partial one. And it would require new efforts to make sure the data in the file are accurate.

In the meantime, the dead continue to be paid. On Tuesday in Baltimore, 63-year-old Dwight Newman will be sentenced by a federal judge after pleading guilty to stealing his deceased father’s Social Security benefits.

As these cases go, his late relative did not “live” that long. Newman’s father died in 2007. But four years had passed, and $79,105 had been paid, before official Washington seemed to realize it.

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