Lawmakers Want the Government to Stop Paying Dead People

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would simplify the process for identifying people who have died and cutting off the flow of federal benefits to them.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would simplify the process for identifying people who have died and cutting off the flow of federal benefits to them.

The Government Accountability Office estimated that federal agencies disbursed nearly $125 billion in improper payments to ineligible recipients last year. And the Office of Personnel Management IG found four years ago that $601 million in improper payments were made to federal retirees who had died over the previous five years.

The bill, known as the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act, would give federal agencies access to the Social Security Administration’s database of deceased individuals, the most complete database of such data available. Currently, only a small number of federal agencies have access to this official list. This lack of information sharing is often the culprit of the government making the improper payments.

In addition to sharing the database, the bill would also do the following:

  • Require 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.
  • Improve the Death Data – The legislation establishes procedures to ensure more accurate death data.  For example, in response to a recent Inspector General report, the Act requires the SSA to screen for individuals currently listed as being older than 112 years of age, and make corrections. The Act will also mandate much improved procedures for fixing errors by living beneficiaries who are mistakenly listed as dead.

The bill was introduced Thursday (S. 1073) by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) and Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Reid Ribble (R-WI) introduced a companion bill (H.R. 2003) in the House.

In a statement, Senator Johnson said, “Social Security’s death records are in disarray — they show millions of people over 112 years of age as alive when they’re actually dead. They mistakenly mark tens of thousands of living people each year as dead when they are alive. By cleaning up Social Security’s Death Master File and sharing it with other federal agencies, we can protect taxpayers and ensure their money isn’t being wasted fraudulently on the deceased.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.