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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) took to the Senate floor to push for passage of the bipartisan Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. The legislation, which was introduced in both the 116th and 115th Congresses with Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) and would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals, was passed unanimously today by the Senate.

Passage of this common sense bill comes after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week showing that over one million of the coronavirus relief payments – money made available to Americans as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March – were sent out by the Treasury Department to deceased people. Those improper payments totaled at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars.

Carper urged,  “I’ve heard directly from constituents of mine who have received checks for deceased family members. It seems as though Treasury did not take the steps needed to prevent these improper payments, and, further, as reported by GAO, components of the Treasury Department responsible for the payments do not even have access to the most up to date information about deceased persons available in the federal government. Simply put, this is unacceptable.”

Just last month, Senators Carper and Kennedy and Representatives Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig, and Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul, asking each agency to take immediate action to prevent further improper CARES Act payments.

While improper payments have gained more attention recently, these are, unfortunately, not a new issue. In fiscal year 2019, GAO estimated that improper payments throughout the federal government totaled about $175 billion. Since 2003, when agencies were first directed to begin reporting improper payments, cumulative improper payment estimates across government have totaled almost $1.7 trillion.

Carper continued, “As elected officials, one of our most important responsibilities is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We can, and we must, be doing better on this front…the [Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act] would save hundreds of millions in improper payments and would ensure that the family of deceased persons are no longer burdened with the task of managing errant funds disbursed by the federal government.”

Yesterday, Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a new report recommending that the Senate pass the bipartisan Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act to combat these wasteful – and preventable – improper payments.

Background

The IRS has full access to death data maintained by the Social Security Administration (SSA), but Treasury and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service do not. GAO has repeatedly recommended that Congress amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow SSA to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to prevent payments to ineligible individuals.

Senators Carper and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) first introduced legislation to address GAO’s concerns in 2013. The Improper Payments Agency Cooperation Enhancements Act (IPACE)  would have provided agencies with the tools needed to improve agency coordination on anti-waste and fraud efforts and curb millions of dollars in improper payments to deceased individuals. Since then, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act has passed through HSGAC four times out of the past seven years.

Key provisions in the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act 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.

You can find Senator Carper’s full remarks here.