Welfare Benefits:

States Need Social Security's Death Data to Avoid Payment Error or Fraud

HRD-91-73: Published: Apr 2, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 1991.

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GAO reviewed the feasibility of computer matching Social Security Administration (SSA) death data with benefit payment files for Maryland, Pennsylvania, and District of Columbia benefit programs to determine whether states paid welfare benefits to deceased recipients.

GAO found that: (1) between January 1986 and December 1987, the 3 states continued benefit payments at least 2 months after SSA files recorded the eligible recipients' death in 2,950 cases; (2) states' follow-up analysis of 229 of those cases confirmed the recipient's death in 86 cases, concluded that 85 recipients were actually alive, and could not determine the recipient's status in 58 cases; (3) states provided weak or inconclusive evidence to support their conclusions that some recipients were alive; (4) state welfare officials generally believed that receiving SSA death data would assist them in identifying false claims made under deceased recipients' social security numbers; (5) SSA expressed concern that states and agencies also independently verify reported deaths and provide advance notice before adjusting benefits, since its data were not always accurate; and (6) SSA believed that its Enumeration Verification System would require only minimal inexpensive changes to include reporting death information to states.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to modify the current social security number verification systems to routinely provide death information to states for their use in processing welfare benefit claims and payments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA modified the contracts with states that provide restricted death data to allow for redisclosure. SSA made the required systems changes to make the data available.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to publish and make available to the states appropriate instructions on accessing and using this information, including the need to verify SSA-provided death information and to give people advance notice before initiating actions to stop, deny, or adjust payments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA has closed the case on this recommendation and plans no further action.

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