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Social Security Administration audit missed 1.2 million deaths

A recent report released by the inspector general for the Social Security Administration reveals some troubling news about the way that the SSA handles recordkeeping in relation to the payout of benefits. Specifically, it was reported that as many as 1.2 million Americans from New York and elsewhere were not properly noted as deceased by the Social Security Administration in the timeframe following their deaths. That suggests that benefits may have been wrongly paid to family members or others following the deaths of the individuals involved.

The report comes on the heels of multiple audits that found that other government agencies paid out benefits in the form of Medicare and farm subsidies for years after the rightful recipients were deceased. The proper procedure is for Social Security officials to cease retirement benefits when it is revealed through a family member or a funeral home professional that a death has taken place. However, the next step is to record each death on a national list that is shared amongst multiple federal agencies. These agencies rely on the master list to make their own adjustments in their payment systems.

To clarify, it is not an issue of the Social Security Administration continuing to make payments after they are made aware that a death has occurred. Instead, the SSA has simply failed to follow the proper procedure that would share this information with other agencies. The report suggests that the omitted entries were the result of clerical errors on the part of employees, or due to a failure of the information entered into the computer system to match existing records.

The auditors have urged the SSA to make improvements in the way that it handles these entries, and to make overall improvements to its recordkeeping practices. Members of the legislature have spoken out about the report, calling the faulty recordkeeping 'inexcusable' and pointing out that such errors cost taxpayers millions of dollars per year. This report is illustrative of the human error and technological limitations that can come into play when dealing with a government entity. Residents of New York who have concerns about their Social Security benefits, or who feel that they have not received their rightful benefit award would be well advised to seek assistance in navigating the paperwork and legal intricacies of any Social Security Administration action.

Source: The Washington Post, "Social Security Administration did not properly record 1.2 million deaths, auditors find," Lisa Rein, July 12, 2012

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