According to a June 21 audit by the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, 2,475 beneficiaries had a recorded date of death in Social Security’s own database. The IG determined that “at least” 1,546 of these individuals were in fact dead and still receiving benefits, totaling $30,956,695 through May 2012.
Among those 1,546 deceased, some were receiving benefits for up to 20 years.
“SSA continued issuing benefit payments to these beneficiaries for 2 to 237 months after recording the beneficiaries’ dates of death and death certificate information on the Numident [Numerical Identification System],” the report said. 237 months equals 19.75 years.
On average, individuals continued to receive benefits for 20 months, or nearly 2 years after their death, racking up $20,023 each in payments.
And the problem is not new. The IG’s last audit in 2009 identified 6,733 dead individuals who received payments totaling $40.3 million -- 91 deceased persons from that audit are still receiving benefits.
“It appeared SSA did not correct these 91 records and the beneficiaries remained in current payment status, at least through May 2012,” the IG said.
“SSA did not correct all discrepancies…or implement compensating controls to periodically identify and resolve these inconsistencies,” they said.
In one example, an individual died in April 2000, but continued to receive benefits for 12 years, with a family member capitalizing on the agency’s error.
“In February 2001, SSA recorded the beneficiary’s date of death and New York death certificate number on the Numident,” the report said. “However, SSA did not record the death entry on the beneficiary’s payment record and continued issuing monthly benefit payments.”
A relative of the deceased ended up cashing $160,101 in payments, which were not terminated until August 2012, “for his own use.”
The audit also found the alert system to notify Social Security workers of a beneficiary’s death failed 80 percent of the time.
“In all 2,475 cases, once the death reports were processed, DACUS [Death Alert, Control, and Update System] should have generated alerts to notify the appropriate field office to take action and resolve the discrepancies,” the report said.
Field office employees are then required to address death notices within 30 days.
“However, SSA Office of Systems staff informed us that DACUS issued alerts in only about 20 percent of cases reviewed,” the IG said.
The IG recommended that the SSA verify the current status of its beneficiaries, terminate payments going to the deceased, and attempt to recover improper payments. Social Security agreed with the report and has begun implementing system fixes, they said.