Some people have made the headlines this year for a unique reason: they weren’t able to get their scheduled stimulus checks because the government believes that they’re dead.
One Indiana man was not able to get his stimulus money, as well as some other government benefits, because the IRS has mistakenly listed him as deceased. That man was added to a government database called the Death Master File, which is frequently shared both among government agencies and with the private sector—and getting off the Death Master File is not an easy feat.
There was another case in Oklahoma, around the same time, of another man who was falsely declared dead by the government. This was apparently due to a mix-up following the passing of his wife. He discovered the problem after trying to file his taxes and being told that there was an error because the government listed him as dead.
“Everybody thinks it's funny, though. You don't sound like you're dead and everything,” the Oklahoma man told a TV news station. “It is kind of humorous, but after this amount of time, it's no longer humorous.”
In both of these cases, both the IRS and Social Security Administration told the not-dead person that while they couldn’t help, the other agency could.
Now, there’s another story about people mistakenly listed as dead by the government.
WABC in New York reported last week about two women who have been declared deceased by the Social Security Administration, despite being very much alive.
One of the women, who had paid into Social Security for thirty years, first had $10,000 worth of benefits clawed back and then received a death notification, which froze both her pension payments and bank account.
“A whole menagerie of problems occurred,” the first woman said. “Social Security, with just a flip of a switch, can just erase my life... I couldn’t even pay for my medication. There were days I was truly struggling.”
On top of that, she is suffering from cancer, and the attendant loss of Medicare payments left her unable to use those benefits to pay for her health care.
The other woman ended up owing money.
“I feel like I’ve been in limbo,” she said. “I am owed more than $11,000 by Social Security.”
The two women visited their local Social Security offices, which failed to solve the problem, at which point they notified the TV station. After they did, the problems were solved much faster than they were for that Indiana man—the Social Security accounts for the two women were restored, along with all of the lost benefits.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.