In a city full of shady for-profit government contractors and a bloated national security industry, the Washington Post‘s front page today (11/4/13) is onto… Social Security checks going to dead people?
“Why the Dead Get Government Checks” is the headline over David Fahrenthold‘s latest, with the subhead telling readers: “Agencies Can’t Reliably Tell Who’s Alive, So Benefits Keep Coming.”
The Post makes things sound pretty dire indeed, right from the start:
The US government has a problem with dead people. For one thing, it pays them way too much money.
In the past few years, Social Security paid $133 million to beneficiaries who were deceased. The federal employee retirement system paid more than $400 million to retirees who had passed away. And an aid program spent $3.9 million in federal money to pay heating and air-conditioning bills for more than 11,000 of the dead.
These mistakes are part of a surprising glitch at the heart of the federal bureaucracy. Because of a jury-rigged and outdated system meant to track deaths, the government has trouble determining exactly which Americans are deceased.
As a result, Washington is bedeviled by both the living dead and the dead living.
The piece also stated that “these failures have become a long-running case study in how government systems break–and stay broken.”
Now, if you’re the least bit curious about how big a problem this might be, the Post doesn’t offer much in the way of help. There’s a passing line about how this is not exactly a common problem: “Federal officials say the vast majority of these cases are handled correctly.”
Wait–I thought the government had no reliable way of telling who’s alive; now we’re reading, almost as an afterthought, that the “vast majority” of deaths are recorded without incident.
Economist and media critic Dean Baker (Beat the Press, 11/4/13) had a better headline for the Post piece: “Social Security Paid Out 0.006 Percent of Benefits to Dead People.” But then, that wouldn’t make the front page.