PJ Media

From Social Security to Food Benefits, It's Welfare Gone Wild

The numbers are in, and the news is bad: our public benefits system has gone to rack and ruin. From Social Security to food programs and other pillars of the welfare state, waste, fraud, and abuse is rampant.

Take disability payments. According to an Inspector General’s report obtained by Pajamas Media, the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance program (OASDI) has provided significant benefits to people who should not have them — including the dead. A newly commissioned audit reveals that more than 2,900 dead people may have received more than $23 million in Social Security disability insurance payments. As detailed in the IG’s report,

4,699 beneficiaries remained in suspended pay status despite the death information on their Numident [“Numerical Identification System,” the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) file on an individual.] We estimate 2,976 of these beneficiaries were improperly paid approximately $23.8 million.

And  157 people whose benefits had been terminated were still paid more than $300,000. The IG even concluded that the personal information of 2,715 beneficiaries was at risk of being released to the public. What’s to blame? According to the IG, SSA

did not have adequate controls to identify and timely resolve discrepancies between the Numident and MBR [Master Beneficiary Record].

Bureaucracy, its own excuse, strikes again. As of Feb. 2009, the report goes on to note, there were also more than 6,000 people on the books whose benefits had been suspended, and whom the SSA knew were dead. And in nearly half of the cases, someone had been receiving payments for people who were dead.

The IG also discovered, based on a random sample, that nearly half the people receiving benefits should not have received them:

Based on a random sample of 250 beneficiaries, we found that 121 (48.4 percent) had improper payments. This consisted of 114 beneficiaries who remained in suspense and 7 beneficiaries whose benefits SSA subsequently terminated for death. In addition, 66 (26.4 percent) suspended beneficiaries were properly paid, and 63 (25.2 percent) were properly terminated for death.

There were beneficiaries who had been in suspended pay status for as much as 22 years. SSA was found to have been unable to resolve benefit suspensions properly in nearly three-fourths of cases:

Our review disclosed that SSA did not properly resolve the benefit suspensions of 180 (72 percent) of the 250 beneficiaries in our sample. These 180 beneficiaries had been in suspended pay status for an average of 11.2 years since SSA recorded their death information on the Numident. Of these, 114 beneficiaries had improper payments, and 66 did not.

The IG bothered to issue several recommendations for SSA, suggesting that the agency

  • take appropriate action to terminate benefits or remove erroneous death information for the 180 beneficiaries identified by the audit;
  • identify and take corrective action for the remaining population of 6,277 suspended beneficiaries with a death date; and
  • take corrective action for the seven beneficiaries terminated for death with improper payments, evaluate the results of its corrective actions, and determine if it should review the estimated remaining 150 beneficiaries terminated for death.

Its shortcomings put on embarrassing if clinical display, SSA declared that it “agreed” with all the recommendations made by the IG. The question is, what actions will follow from this agreement? Any?

One’s lack of confidence in the likelihood of reform could be excused. An IG’s report is supposed to answer questions. This one, unfortunately, raises many more than it answers. How, for instance, did the Social Security system get so out-of-whack in the first place?

Or, more broadly, what other abuses and oversights lurk in the dark corners of our welfare state? It’s not the only benefits system which seems to be completely dysfunctional.

According to KansasWatchdog.org, a non-profit investigative reporting website, Kansans received over $195,000 in cash public assistance benefits while visiting 38 other states — in March alone. Kansans received an additional $1.9 million in public assistance food benefits — in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The cash payments included $123 on Jan. 4 at 11:19 PM on the Las Vegas Strip, one of six attempted transactions at that location at that time.

The problem of inadequate benefit controls is not limited to SSA or Kansas. In an October 2010 story, the Los Angeles Times reported that

More than $69 million in California welfare money, meant to help the needy pay their rent and clothe their children, has been spent or withdrawn outside the state in recent years, including millions in Las Vegas, hundreds of thousands in Hawaii and thousands on cruise ships sailing from Miami.

Stories like this can be drawn from nearly every state and nearly every federal benefits program. Who can forget the FEMA debit cards being used at strip clubs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?

Add in the lottery winner who’s still on food stamps and the “adult baby” who’s on disability and it becomes obvious the system is woefully broken. Where are the politicians with the guts to fix it?