The inspector general found that about 72,000 payments were sent by electronic-transfer and as checks to people who would have qualified to receive them — had they still been alive. The report said that of these payments, about 55,000 were sent because the recipients had died recently, and the Social Security Administration had not been informed of their deaths by states, families or funeral homes at the time the payments were sent. The remaining 17,000 of the mistaken payments were attributed to the SSA failing to properly process death records that it did have.
Another 17,000 payments went to recipients who were in prison at the time the payment was made in May 2009. However, not all of those payments were necessarily against the letter of the law. While lawmakers intended to prevent payments to people in prison, the law included only a provision prohibiting payments to people incarcerated in the three months before the plan was passed — from November 2008 through January 2009.
There’s a startling bright spot in the report: The inspector general estimates that about 41,000 of the payments were returned.