Stimulating the Dead | Citizens Against Government Waste

Stimulating the Dead

The WasteWatcher

When the federal government decided to spend $787 billion to stimulate the economy in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), most Americans understood, contrary to most of the tough talk about accountability and transparency, that a percentage of these funds would be wasted.  To try and assuage these fears, Congress and Obama Administration declared that the stimulus money would be focused on “shovel ready” projects.

Apparently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) believes that a “shovel ready” project means digging up the dead to hand them a stimulus check.

In fact, the SSA reported that more than 10,000 stimulus checks were sent to the dead.  The new law provided a one-time payment of $250 for retirees, disabled individuals, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.  One would assume that the term “retirees” was meant to describe people retired from the workforce, not people retired from life.

These are not just the recently deceased of the past few weeks, months, or even a year.  The government sent checks to one individual who had been dead for 42 years.  That’s exactly what 83 year-old James Hagner of Orchard Beach, Maryland learned in May.  He received a check from the U.S. Treasury made out to his mother, Rose, who died in 1967.

A spokesman for the SSA blamed the problem on the short three-month period they had to get the checks in the mail, claiming it was simply impossible to clean up the agency’s list so quickly.  Taxpayers probably assumed that an operation as large as SSA that sends millions of checks out each month to all eligible retirees would already have in place a system to keep the lists current.  After 42 years, the power company had removed Rose from their list.  After 42 years, the telephone company had removed Rose from their list.  Yet the SSA could not figure this out.

Legions of SSA employees began their first day of work after Rose’s death, worked their entire careers at SSA and retired with a generous government pension.  Throughout that entire 42-year time period, evidently not one of those government workers could figure out how to correct Rose’s record.

There is another curious case.  A stimulus check was sent to Romolo Romonini.  Compared to Rose, Mr. Romonini died relatively recently, only 34 years ago, in Italy.  He was an American citizen, but he moved to Italy in 1933 and only returned to the U.S. briefly in 1969 to visit family.  His name somehow appeared in the records of the Social Security Administration and therefore he was entitled to receive a stimulus check from the government. 

The problem is that he left the United States two years before President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law and never paid a cent into the system.

What should be of concern to all taxpayers is that only after news stories of stimulus checks to the dead began popping up did the SSA quickly respond by saying that this was a minor problem and only affected about 10,000 of the checks.  If SSA was able to quickly and easily certify that the problem was limited to only 10,000 checks, they should have been equally able to quickly and easily clean up the lists. 

Conversely, if the task of determining who is still alive and entitled to a check is as difficult as SSA alleged, taxpayers should have little confidence that the problem is, in fact, limited to only 10,000 checks.  These stories only became public because of honest people.  One wonders how many unscrupulous or inattentive people simply deposited the checks. 

This is one wasteful stimulus program that calls for more excavation.

Roger Morse, Visiting Fellow

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