Congress wants to eliminate tens of millions of dollars wasted annually on benefits payments to the deceased.
A bill introduced in the Senate last week would stop the federal government from paying dead people.
The bipartisan Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, introduced by Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Tom Carper, D-Del., comes in response to several inspector general audits detailing how the Social Security Administration paid more than $40 million to 500 dead people last year in just three states.
In one case, the SSA made payments totaling $381,000 through 2018 to the account of a beneficiary who died in 1974.
“Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be wasted on paying government benefits to dead people,” Kennedy said in a statement. “It’s just throwing hard-earned taxpayer money into the pockets of con artists.”
The bill cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday and awaits a floor vote. Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., introduced a companion bill in the House.
The bill does three main things. First, it expands the number of federal agencies that have access to the government’s death database. Currently, only agencies that directly manage programs making beneficiary payments, like SSA, have access to it, but lawmakers expect an expansion will improve public safety and health.
The legislation would also require that federal agencies make appropriate use of death data to curb improper payments. That would likely require the use of technology to scour the databases for suspicious activity, such as benefits made to persons of extreme old age. A 2015 SSA inspector general audit, for example, found 6.5 million individuals in the database over the age of 112 who were still listed as “alive.”
According to historical databases, there are fewer than 100 people on Earth alive over the age of 112. The bill would require a cleanup of the death database to “ensure more accurate death data.”
“As government officials, one of our most important responsibilities is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Carper said in a statement. “That’s why, for years, I have worked across the aisle to assess federal government spending and eliminate billions of taxpayer dollars in waste, fraud and abuse. But there is still work to be done because we know that year after year, the federal government continues to mismanage billions of dollars through improper payments.”