The Office of the Inspector General (IG) at the Social Security Administration (SSA) has released a March 2019 internal audit that sought to determine whether the SSA has been doling out benefits to dead people in Maryland and Michigan. The answer, as it turns out, is a resounding “yes.” Overall, the IG found that the SSA had paid out nearly $42 million to about 500 dead people.
The Daily Caller reports:
The SSA identified 160 individuals who had possibly died, with 57 from Michigan from 1971 through 2010 and 103 from Maryland from 1979 through 2015. Around $16.9 million in payments were issued to 145 individuals who reportedly died in these states. The remaining 15 were alive.
There was an instance where a woman received payments for a person who died in 2000 and used it for personal benefit. She pleaded guilty for theft and was required to pay nearly $170,000 back to SSA. Another person also received Social Security benefits that was posted under the deceased person’s record since 1997. The beneficiary had died in 1974.
As The Daily Caller also notes, a separate Texas-specific SSA audit found that nearly $25 million in Social Security payments had been given to 336 dead Texans.
Overall, the $42 million represents a small percentage of the total funds dispersed through SSA. In the federal government’s fiscal year 2018, for instance, roughly 70 million people received more than $1 trillion through Social Security programs. But each penny nonetheless represents a discrete waste of taxpayer funds.
The IG report’s conclusion explains how SSA has responded to the results of the IG’s audit:
SSA identified 160 beneficiaries who were likely deceased and in current pay status. Fifteen beneficiaries were determined to be alive. For the remaining 145, we determined Maryland and Michigan death information was not always recorded on SSA’s records. As a result, SSA issued approximately $16.9 million in payments to 145 individuals who reportedly died in Maryland from 1979 through 2015 or Michigan from 1971 through 2010. Correcting these cases represents an opportunity for SSA to reduce its exposure to future overpayments and improve the accuracy and completeness of the death information it maintains.
As of January 9, 2019, SSA had suspended or terminated benefits and added death information to its records for 95 of the 145 beneficiaries. SSA had posted about $10.5 million in overpayments. In addition, [IG] continued reviewing the remaining cases. Therefore, we made no recommendations for further corrective action.
As for Social Security, CBO forecasts that its annual non-interest cash deficit will gradually rise from 0.4 percent to 1.8 percent of GDP over the next 15 years, and then level off for the rest of the 75-year window. The Social Security trust fund (which is also a liability for taxpayers who must repay the loans), accounts for just over $3 trillion of the system’s $19 trillion cash deficit through 2047, according to CBO.
Overall, CBO projects that Social Security and Medicare will run annual cash deficits that rise to 6.6 percent of GDP within three decades – or 10.5 percent when including the resulting interest costs. In no way is that “roughly the same size” as (at most) one percent of GDP in long-term tax cuts. …
Reasonable people can disagree on how to close the future deficits (although deficit reduction would likely require a large value-added tax to close the $80 trillion gap without significant benefit reforms). But the first step is to accurately diagnose the long-term debt as indisputably driven by the $82 trillion projected cash deficit for Social Security and Medicare.