On February 13, 2009, Congress allocated $13 billion to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One section of the Act allowed certain people to receive a one-time $250 stimulus check, including those eligible for Social Security or SSI payments, railroad retirement beneficiaries, and disabled veterans who collected benefits from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA). Most people in prison are ineligible for such benefits, and poor record keeping led to a scramble to retrieve the stimulus checks sent to prisoners who didn’t qualify.
According to Wes Davis, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, approximately 3,900 stimulus checks were mailed to incarcerated persons nationwide, 1,700 of whom were not eligible for the payments. To meet eligibility requirements, one had to have been outside prison or jail between November 2008 and January 2009, and be eligible for benefits from the Social Security Administration, VA or Railroad Retirement Board.
Of the 240 checks sent to Texas prisoners, all but nine had to be returned to government officials. Most of the payments were issued by the VA, all of which had to be sent back.
The checks mailed to ineligible prisoners totaled approximately $425,000. The spokesman for the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, George E. Penn, said an audit was underway to ensure that checks in-correctly sent to prisoners were returned. The Inspector General for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, John Moriarty, said, “We caught this because of the procedures we have in place. We think we caught everything that shouldn’t have gone through.”
Which leaves one to wonder about the deficient procedures that allowed such a mix-up to occur in the first place. “It is unacceptable for convicts to be getting stimulus funds. It speaks to the lack of oversight and accountability to have such nonsense coming out of Washington. Where is the accountability?” said U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor.
Then again, considering that around 52 million citizens were eligible for the stimulus payments, mistakenly sending 1,700 checks to prisoners – or an error rate of .0000326 – isn’t bad for government work. Other stimulus checks were erroneously sent to people who were fugitives, living outside the U.S., or dead.
Sources: Austin American-Statesman, www.ss.com, Associated Press, www.foxnews.com
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