Agencies still fight over death data

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Who in the government knows when you died?

That’s the fundamental question in a report commissioned by Congress on how death records are shared across government for benefit administration and other program delivery purposes. Lawmakers and government officials have been arguing for years over how best to collect and share death data, according to the report from the National Academy of Public Administration released Monday.

State vital statistics offices collect and maintain death records, but this data is also essential for government programs at the federal level.

“Accurate and timely information about deceased citizens plays a key role in the federal government‘s ability to reduce the inappropriate payment of Social Security benefits, identify those who are eligible for survivor benefits, and strengthen program administration” , said Terry Gerton, President and CEO. CEO of the academy, in a press release.

Congress called for this report in the government funding bill for fiscal year 2021 after reports of stimulus checks being sent to people who died early in the pandemic.

Currently, the Social Security Administration works primarily with vital statistics offices to obtain death data.

SSA also shares this data with certain federal and state government agencies, but this is not part of its mission and its sharing is limited.

The Treasury Department’s Do Not Pay system does not have access to the full file of death information, despite its role as a free service that agencies can use to verify a person’s eligibility for payment with its services of data matching and analysis.

The report explores potential alternatives, but the expert panel that drafted it does not offer a recommendation on what might be best.

“The diverse interests of different stakeholders, including states and federal agencies, have made resolving this issue difficult,” the report said. “There is no perfect solution when it comes to collecting and disseminating state death data. The panel analysis shows the pros and cons of each potential option.

One option is to stick with the current system. However, the Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations Act requires the SSA to share its death data with Do Not Pay to prevent abusive payments from December 2023 for three years.

The Government Accountability Office recommended that Congress grant the Do Not Pay portal access to SSA death records in 2016.

Another option would be to tap Don’t Pay as Death Records Sharer.

A nongovernmental data clearinghouse, perhaps the nonprofit organization that currently acts as the intermediary between state offices and the SSA, could also be the data distributor for federal agencies.

Among the issues to be resolved are salaries, with state offices already debating whether they are being properly compensated for data. These civil registration offices also often face chronic funding problems.

Previously, the SSA was also only reimbursed for a fraction of the total costs of buying, maintaining and sharing this data, the report says, although the 2021 budget law also requires agencies obtaining the data to reimburse full SSA for the cost.

In 2019, the Social Security Advisory Board called on Congress to shift responsibility for collecting and sharing death data to Do Not Pay, arguing that the program is too expensive for SSA and that DNP is better. suited to the task.

The panel, however, suggests that the SSA should still receive death data directly from states, given its role in correcting errors and improving data accuracy. If the sharing role changes to Do Not Pay, SSA should still be the collector of death records, but not the one who shares this information with other agencies, the report says.

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