Bustos & Gianforte Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Prevent the Government from Writing Checks to Dead People

Companion legislation to protect taxpayers from waste fraud and abuse introduced in the Senate as well

Washington, D.C. – Today, Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Greg Gianforte (R-MT) introduced the bipartisan Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. The Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act would allow all federal agencies access to the Death Master File, the most complete information on who has died, maintained by the Social Security Administration. Currently, 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 file.  In addition, most Inspectors General lack access to complete death information.  As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased.

Companion legislation was also introduced in the Senate today by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), John Kennedy (R-LA), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

“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.

“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 and Peters, and our colleagues in the House and Senate to advance this bill and prevent improper payments to dead people in the future.”

“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 Sen. 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.”

Background

Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act

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 for program integrity purposes. Further, most agency Inspectors General lack access to the complete death information. As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased.

The Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act seeks to curb improper payments to deceased individuals and provide agencies with more accurate data to accomplish their missions through greater data sharing between agencies. The legislation would build upon improper payment laws by granting federal agencies access to more accurate and complete lists of deceased individuals.

The legislation is based on recommendations and findings by federal agencies’ Inspectors General, recommendations from the Government Accountability Office, Fiscal Year 2018 Budget proposal and testimony at Congressional hearings examining the challenges of improper payments to deceased individuals.

Legislation

The legislation will:

  • Allow 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 would allow all appropriate federal agencies to have access to complete death data for program integrity purposes, as well as other needs such as public safety and health.
  • Require Use of Death Data to Curb Improper Payments. The bill requires the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance to agencies on the use of death data to curb improper payments. OMB is also required to develop plans on how to improve federal data sharing with state and local agencies. This could save hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments.
  • Improve 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.

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