A new report from the Social Security Office of the Inspector General says that the agency sent nearly 89,000 checks for $250 each to people who were dead or in prison. The payments were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Of those who got checks, 71,668 – which totaled $18 million – went to people who had died. Incarcerated people received 17,348 checks, which added up to $4.3 million.
About half of the payments have been returned, but the Inspector General does not have the authority to attempt to find and take back the balance of them.
The reported noted that the Administration was not entirely at fault:
These conditions occurred because SSA (1) was unaware of beneficiary deaths and incarcerations that were reported after it had certified the ERPs, (2) relied on questionable data in its payment records, and (3) did not review all available records, such as the Numident for death information and Prisoner Update Processing System (PUPS) for beneficiary incarcerations.
In response to the report, Social Security Administration press person Mark Lassiter said: “Inaccurate payments are unacceptable. Social Security’s Recovery Act payments were 99.8 percent accurate, and we quickly collected the majority of the inaccurate payments.”
That statement is not likely to put down the firestorm of criticism that will come from the press, the Congress and taxpayers. The sums of the mistake are relatively small compared to the cost of most programs, but as there is more talk about the damage that the deficit will have on the economy and future generations. The inefficiency of the federal government will come under more scrutiny.
The release of the information could hardly come at a worse time. Republicans are likely to seize on the report as an example of what is wrong with a federal government controlled by Democrats. It is the kind of information that people can hardly help but talk about incessantly.
In 1962, Lockheed Corp. charged the government $34,560 for 54 toilet covers or $640 each. The covers were meant for use on Navy ships. The story still circulates around Washington as an example of government waste and lack of oversight of expenses. To the legend of the toilet seat can now be added the legend of the checks to the dead.
Douglas A. McIntyre