Death no bar to pension benefits in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh paid monthly benefits, totaling almost $200,000, to a deceased retiree and two deceased spouses of city employees because officials neglected routine database checks, Pennsylvania auditors have reported.

In one case, the city paid benefits for 33 years to a retiree who had died in 1970, according to the findings of an investigation by the Pennsylvania Auditor General Department. The former city official's son had been illegally cashing the benefits checks.

The Pittsburgh Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund failed to match beneficiaries' Social Security numbers against the federal Social Security Administration's Death Master File, the auditors found.

The typical practice is for the federal government and state pension agencies to run regular checks against the database to terminate benefits when pensioners die. But in Pittsburgh, city officials failed to implement procedures to do such checks and prevent improper payments, according to the audit report (PDF).

'The fact that Pittsburgh's municipal pension fund has made up to $191,000 in improper payments is a serious problem,' said Pennsylvania auditor general Robert P. Casey in a statement. He called for city officials to move aggressively to recover the funds and establish methods of checking when a beneficiary has died.

Pittsburgh officials agreed with the audit findings, issued last month, and said they planned to carry out the recommended database checks and reforms.

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