Press releases

Sen Kennedy: ‘We can start by cutting off payments to corpses.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act.  This common sense, bipartisan legislation will remove bureaucratic hurdles that are allowing billions of dollars in improper payments to be made with taxpayer money.  The Social Security Administration alone made $9.8 billion in improper payments in 2015.  Stopping these improper payments will safeguard money for senior citizens.

Joining as cosponsors are Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.).  In the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) have introduced companion legislation.

“It’s pretty simple: Don’t pay dead people.  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.”

“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.”

Improper payments continue to increase each year despite previous efforts to reduce them.  Federal agencies spent $132 billion on improper payments in 2015 alone.  The Carper-Kennedy bill would give agencies that provide or administer federally funded benefit programs access to death information maintained by the Social Security Administration, among other improvements.

Key provisions in the bill include: 

  • Allowing 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 allows all appropriate federal agencies to have access to the complete death data for program integrity purposes, as well as other needs such as public safety and health.
  • Requiring 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.
  • Improving the 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.