The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

I See Dead People

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


A Government Accountability Office report released June 28 has an eye catching headline, “USDA Needs to Do More to Prevent Improper Payments to Deceased Individuals.”  Yup, here we go again, our government using our tax dollars to pay dead people.

The GAO discusses in its report how the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) doles out various programs to farmers to help support their incomes and provide disaster assistance.  Since 2007, the FSA has had a system in place to prevent improper payments from going to deceased farmers.  The FSA matches Social Security numbers from deceased individuals with payments to program participants.  Because of this system, the FSA has been able to identify some $3.3 million in improper payments that were paid to deceased individuals.  The agency was able to recover $1 million of the improper payments, or only 30 percent.

It seems that another agency with USDA has a similar problem, only worse.  The Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) administers voluntary conservation programs.  It does not have a checking procedure like the FSA has in place and therefore, it is unable to identify if it is sending out payments to individuals that should not be receiving them.  The GAO undertook a review of the agency’s data for the years 2008 to April of 2012 and believes the NRCS may have made as much as $10.6 million in payments to 1,103 people that had been dead for a year or more.  There is no way to tell how many were improper because the NRCS does not review the payments to see if any are going to dead people.

But wait, there's more!  Another agency within the USDA, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) administers crop insurance programs and also does not have in place procedures to prevent subsidies from being paid improperly to deceased individuals.  The GAO matched every policy holder’s Social Security number that receives a crop insurance subsidy and found that between the years of 2008 to April 2012 some $22 million in subsidies and allowances may have been provided to an estimated 3,434 program participants two years after their death.

You may recall that this is not a new phenomenon within the federal government.  Back in 2011, the IRS paid out $12.1 million in tax refunds to people that had passed away.  The names and social security numbers of over 5,000 dead people were used to illegally obtain the cash.

Also in September of 2011, the Inspector General within the Office of Personnel Management discovered that more than $600 million in benefit payments were paid to dead former federal employees.   In fact, the son of one deceased federal employee received payments for 37 years after his father died.  It wasn’t discovered until the son passed away in 2008 that the years of erroneous payments had been made.

In June 2013, the Social Security Inspector General in his audit report discovered that the agency had paid $31 million in benefits to 1,546 Americans that were no longer alive.

And this isn’t just a problem with the federal government, it happens in the states too. For example, the Massachusetts state auditor discovered 1,164 incidents in which welfare recipients received benefits some six to 27 months after they had died for a total of $2.39 million.

In New York, the state authorized nearly $3 million in unemployment benefits for people that were dead, re-employed, out of the country, had exceeded their benefits or were not authorized to work in the United States.  Fortunately, the state comptroller said about $1.9 million was stopped from being paid but the state will still need to go after the $1.1 million that was paid.  Good luck with that.

We are now approaching the silly season in Washington, D.C. in which our lawmakers and the president must come to some kind of agreement on the budget and spending for 2014.  The fiscal year ends on September 30 and if no appropriation bills are signed into law or at minimum a continuing resolution passed to kept money flowing to the federal agencies, the government shuts down.  Add to that the continuing kerfuffle over the sequester and the need to raise the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow more money to pay its bills.

We will see lots of hand wringing and hear stories of how children are starving, grandma is being denied her medicines, bridges will collapse, planes will fall out of the sky, and the national parks will be shut down unless we spend billions of dollars more next year and beyond.

But if the federal government and the states continue to shell out billions of dollars in fraudulent payments to con-artists and swindlers, don’t believe a word of it.

 

 

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