BALTIMORE — A 91-year-old Carroll County woman is trying to prove to the Social Security Administration that she's still alive.
According to the agency’s system, she passed away in December.
“I have nothing. No Social Security, no insurance, no nothing,” said Alma Green. “I’m kind of stunned to tell you the truth.”
Her daughter, Bobbi Vinson, discovered the grim declaration when she and her husband went to withdraw money for Green from her account.
“We were getting her normal amount of cash for her to start out the New Year and it was saying insufficient funds, which we knew could not be,” said Vinson. “That's when we were told your mother's been declared dead. Social Security has taken back this money.”
During the pandemic, Green only left her house for doctor’s appointments, but she was told she’d have to go to the Westminster branch in-person to prove she’s still alive. After waiting several weeks, she was able to meet with someone on January 19.
“The lady at Social Security told me that she did not know how it originated, what happened, she knew nothing. She couldn't tell me nothing except that I'm deceased,” Green said.
Despite being assured the issue would be resolved in 3 to 5 business days, Green didn’t receive her funds.
“After 10 days of no communication, we started trying again,” said Vinson.
That included reaching out to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
“[Mallory] immediately responded, I mean immediately. It was a blessing. And within an hour, [her] contact had gotten Matt on the phone,” Vinson said.
The Social Security public affairs specialist again reported the erroneous death on February 17. The family was notified it'd been corrected last Friday. However, payments are still held up.
“It’s just every time we think we're somewhere, we're not,” Vinson said.
Frequency of erroneous death reports
The Social Security Administration said of the 2.8 million deaths reported each year, less than one-third of 1 percent are subsequently corrected.
In calendar year 2019, SSA removed 6,873 death entries from the Death Master File.
According to the SSA Office of the Inspector General, audits conducted in 2008 and 2011 found that SSA deleted 83,000 death entries from the Death Master File between January 2004 and April 2010, which is an average of more than 13,000 per year.
Green’s email is the second erroneous death report WMAR-2 News has received in the last two years.
In 2020, a Parkville man was falsely reported dead. His financial and medical benefits were suddenly halted.
His family said they discovered the error on June 25, 2020 and it hadn’t been fully resolved until November 16, 2020.
“Everyone has tried to pitch in. My niece paid for one of her medications that she was out of, which ended up being $750 out of pocket for a one-month supply of her inhaler,” said Vinson after Medicare canceled Green's coverage due to the erroneous death report. “In about two weeks, she will need five prescriptions refilled and I'm just dreading it.”
Green's large family is supporting her, but she feels this financial safety net has failed her.
“I know the money, particularly because she has a plan for it, again, not that it's a huge amount, but she had control of it. And I'm guessing that you feel like you don't have a lot of control over a lot of things?” Vinson said to Green.
“I have no control, I'm dead,” Green responded.
While the SSA doesn't have a way of knowing how these erroneous death reports occur, a spokeswoman said they have procedures in place for quick resolution.
She added that there’s a banking issue currently holding up Green’s payments, but SSA issued a partial payment by check on Monday. The agency anticipates all past due payments will be deposited before the week is out.
**March 7, 2022 update: Vinson confirmed her mom received all past due payments on March 3.**
The SSA OIG has recommended that SSA delay the release of file updates for public customers by a number of months to give itself time to correct erroneous death entries. And to limit information included in the public file to the minimum required and to explore alternatives to including decedents’ full Social Security numbers.
The OIG also noted there’s been a 45 percent decline in the number of errorneous death entries since October 11 as the number of States reporting death information to SSA has increased from 31 to 46.
How to correct an erroneous death report
A SSA spokeswoman added that if a person suspects that they have been incorrectly listed as deceased on their Social Security record, they should visit their local Social Security office as soon as possible.
In 2020, the SSA suspended face-to-face services to the public, however, in-person appointments are available in critical situations.
If you believe you qualify for an in-person appointment, call your local office. Click here to look up the phone number for your local Social Security office.
Benefit recipients should take at least one piece of current (not expired) original form of identification with them. Part of the process of correcting records includes ensuring any current and past due benefits are paid. Social Security can provide a letter that the error has been corrected that can be shared with other organizations.
The SSA was not able to share the average wait time for an in-person appointment at a Baltimore-area Social Security office.