Mistakes sharing death data could cost taxpayers

Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock.com

The Social Security Administration did not properly record 1.2 million deaths, likely allowing federal benefits to be collected by the family and next of kin, according to a new report.

Nearly 1.2 million people were not recorded on the Death Master File, a list distributed to other federal agencies and private sector entities that ensures that federal benefits are not sent to deceased individuals or their families, the SSA inspector general found in an assessment released Monday. The audit found mismatches between the Death Master File and the Numident, a database of Social Security information.

“This missing death information could result in erroneous payments made by federal benefit-paying agencies that rely on the [Death Master File] to detect inaccurate or unreported deaths,” the report said. “The missing death information will also hinder private industry and state and local governments’ ability to identify and prevent identity fraud.”

The report did not say how much was paid out in mistaken benefits.

Auditors attributed the failures to mismatches between the deceased individuals’ personally identifiable information and the database, and to “staff incorrectly [deleting] death information of deceased beneficiaries from the Numident.”

The report also indicated possible discrepancies that could occur between the Homeland Security Department’s E-Verify system -- used to check job applicants’ eligibility to work in the United States -- and the missing death data. The report found that 23 employers inquired about deceased individuals using E-Verify, and the system did not indicate the death.

The mistakes are “inexcusable,” Sen. Tom Coburn R-Okla., said in a statement to The Washington Post.

“That is embarrassing, especially when the [Social Security Administration] is overseeing retirement and disability programs that are going bankrupt,” he told the Post.

The inspector general outlined several solutions to the problem, including having SSA analyze its systems for recording deaths and develop better and more cost effective means of identifying deceased beneficiaries. In a response, the agency agreed with the recommendations and noted other measures it was taking to ensure proper processing of death data.

(Image via Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock.com)

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