In June the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General reported that the agency erroneously paid $31 million to 1,546 beneficiaries who had died. The inspector general recommended action to prevent such discrepancies from happening again.
Mistakenly paying benefits to dead people may seem like an egregious error and is fodder for pundits who criticize perceived government inefficiency, but as Slate’s Matthew Yglesias points out, for an agency that makes a little more than $750 billion in payments annually, $31 million in erroneous payments to dead people represents a 99.996 percent accuracy rate in this area. Furthermore, the error is on the side of caution. Erroneous payments to dead people do constitute government waste, but the real tragedy would be mistakenly cutting off these vital benefits to someone who is still alive.