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Dead People Getting Stimulus Checks and the Making of a Right-Wing Meme

Breitbart, the folks at Reason and Powerline and a whole slew of right-wingers are all over this report which found that the government sent 72,000 stimulus checks to dead people. It fits nicely into their over-arching narrative of an incompetent government staffed by pasty-faced bureaucratic dullards incapable of doing anything right other than wasting your hard-earned money. Oh, and prisoners! 17,000 of them. Viscious criminals getting checks courtesy of good Americans toiling away in the burbs! A taste, courtesy of the appropriately named blog, Scared Monkeys.
In just another example of the waste and ineptitude of “Big Government”, it is being reorted that SSA, Social Security Administration,has sent 89,000 Democrat and Obama approved stimulus checksof $250 were sent to either individuals that were dead or in prison. NICE!!!
Here's the deal. The one-time stimulus payments -- $250 a pop -- were sent to 52 million people. Of that number, 72,000 had died relatively recently. That works out to .0014 of the payments sent, meaning 99.86 percent reached a living soul. That's not evidence of incompetence; it proves what common sense should suggest is obvious: any large instituion, public or private, sending mail to 52 million people will always send a small fraction -- a 10th of one percent in this case -- to the recently deceased. (8/10 of 1 percent of Americans died last year.) The AP notes that half of those checks were returned. This is how things work when someone dies -- checks, and bills, continue to arrive until the estate gets settled. The prisoners had only been incarcerated during the past 3 months. They were in fact eligible for the checks because they'd been on the Social Security rolls until they were locked up. Anyway, it's a great example of creating a narrative by taking numbers out of context, something I talk about a lot in my new book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy. Here's the Washington Post,on the White House review of the stimulus package's implementation (with some outside watchdogs backing it up):
The massive economic stimulus package President Obama pushed through Congress last year is coming in on time and under budget - and with strikingly few claims of fraud or abuse... The report challenges public perceptions of the stimulus aid as slow-moving and wasteful - an image that has fueled voter anger with the dominant party. Even some former skeptics who predicted that the money would lead to rampant abuse now acknowledge that the program could serve as a model for improving efficiency in government. By the end of September, the administration had spent 70 percent of the act's original $787 billion, which met a White House goal of quickly pumping money into the nation's ravaged economy, the report says. The administration also met nearly a dozen deadlines set by Congress for getting money out the door. Meanwhile, lower-than-anticipated costs for some projects have permitted the administration to stretch stimulus money further than expected, financing an additional 3,000 projects, according to the report. Despite the speedy spending, the report says that stimulus contracts and grants have so far been relatively free of the fraud charges that plague more routine government spending programs. Complaints have been filed on less than 2 percent of awards under the program. "Certainly, the fraud and waste element has been smaller than I think anything anybody anticipated," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "You can certainly challenge some projects as questionable economically. But there haven't been the examples of outright fraud where the money is essentially lining somebody's pocket." [...] In addition to assessing how the stimulus program has been carried out, the study restates the administration's case that the package has been effective economically, arguing that it staunched the worst bleeding in employment and led the economy to rebound late last year. Many prominent economists agree with that assessment. The CBO has forecast that the package may be on track to meet the administration's goal of preserving 3.5 million jobs by the end of the year.
It was too small, but it wasn't plagued by graft and corruption. If "conservatives" were truly that, they'd be applauding the stimulus package as an example of how limited government intervention, well implemented, can nonetheless have a real impact. PS: Just how did they uncover this explosive scandal? Did James O'Keefe get some female IRS employee onto his boat and charm the tale out of her? Maybe the intrepid wingnuts at Powerline have some kind of Depp Throat-like whistle-blower on the inside? No, the Social Security's inspector general -- the gum'mint! -- found these errors and released a report. Transparency, you know?
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