Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill Aims to Curb Federal Improper Payments to the Deceased

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Kennedy (R-La.) introduced the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act – bipartisan legislation that would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals. Senators Carper and Kennedy were joined in their introduction by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Bipartisan companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.).

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains the most complete federal database of individuals who are reported to have died. However, only a small number of federal agencies have access to this official list, and most federal agencies rely on a slimmed down, incomplete and less timely version of the death information. In addition, most Inspectors General lack access to the complete death information. As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased. 

“Year after year, we have heard about a fundamental set of problems with how government agencies keep track of deceased individuals,” said Senator Carper. “This legislation would take a number of common-sense steps to fix those problems and, in return, curb hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, in improper payments to people who are ineligible for federal benefits because they are dead. Simply put, we need to sharpen our pencils and stop making the kind of expensive, avoidable mistakes that lead to wasteful spending and make our agencies and programs vulnerable to fraud and abuse. I look forward to working with Senators Kennedy, McCaskill, Warner and Peters, and our colleagues in the House and Senate to advance this bill and prevent improper payments to dead people in the future.”

“It’s pretty simple: Don’t pay dead people. Taxpayer dollars are precious. They’re almost as precious as a newborn baby. We need to be wise stewards of those dollars, especially when we’re struggling with the federal debt so much that we may have to change the Treasury Department’s name to the Debt Department,” said Senator Kennedy. “One simple fix would be to stop paying dead people. An Algiers woman was just indicted for collecting almost $300,000 in Social Security payments meant for her mother who’s been dead for nearly 10 years. That money never should have been sent in the first place. This goes beyond party politics, and it needs to stop.”

“I think we can all agree that making payments to deceased people is an absurd example of poor oversight of federal spending,” said Senator McCaskill. “I’m glad to join Republicans and Democrats alike so we can cut down on these wasteful payments and save Missourians’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”

“This should be a no-brainer: One of the easiest ways we can cut down on government waste, fraud, and abuse is by stopping fraudulent payments made to deceased people,” said Senator Warner. “The federal government has the responsibility to be a good steward of taxpayer money, and this legislation will help us improve the nation’s fiscal health by saving taxpayers millions of dollars lost to bureaucratic oversight.” 

“Congress is responsible for ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and effectively, yet billions of dollars are wasted every year in improper payments in part because agencies do not have access to accurate, up-to-date information on deceased individuals,” said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Federal Spending Oversight Subcommittee. “This bipartisan, commonsense legislation will ensure agencies have the information they need to stop fraud or mistakes, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this legislation forward and prevent waste and abuse of tax dollars in the future.”

“Taxpayers deserve to know that we’re protecting their hard earned dollars and I can’t think of a more egregious example of government waste than writing checks to dead people,” said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. “Our legislation will cut through government red tape and deliver real reforms to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars by streamlining the way federal agencies share information. I’m proud to be working with Democrats and Republicans to solve this problem.”

“The federal government makes billions of dollars in improper payments each year, including Social Security payments to deceased beneficiaries. This bipartisan measure will slash through red tape in the federal bureaucracy to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse and protect taxpayer money. We must give the Social Security Administration more tools to ensure the federal government isn’t paying benefits to deceased people,” Congressman Gianforte said.

Key provisions in the bill include: 

Allowing Federal Agencies Access to the Complete Death Database. Under current law, only federal agencies that directly manage programs making beneficiary payments have access to complete death data.  The Act allows all appropriate federal agencies to have access to the complete death data for program integrity purposes, as well as other needs such as public safety and health.

Requiring Use of Death Data to Curb Improper Payments. The Act would require that federal agencies make appropriate use of the death data in order to curb improper payments.

Improving the Death Data. The legislation would establish procedures to ensure more accurate death data. For example, the bill requires the SSA to screen for “extremely elderly” individuals. This is in response to a 2015 Inspector General Report that identified 6.5 million individuals currently listed as being older than 112 years of age as still alive.