In a classic scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a cart carrying corpses is being wheeled through the muddy streets of a peasant village. A crier managing the cart exhorts the locals to “bring out your dead!” so they may ostensibly be carried away. A local carries out an obviously alive old man, and insists that he is dead, or is old “and will be any moment.” Following a brief and humorous exchange, we can only say things did not end well for the old man.

At least we can hope the death was properly recorded.

Yesterday our website informed us of a report issued in Kentucky by Robert Swisher, Commissioner of the Department of Workers Claims, and Michael A. Wright, Inspector General for the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. The report outlined issues with the state’s Special Fund (formerly the Subsequent Injury Fund) in recent years during the administration of former Governor Matt Bevin. Those issues primarily were that “$560,000.00 of income benefits have been overpaid to certain Special Fund claimants.” And to be clear, by “certain Special Fund claimants,” they mean dead people. They might have been alive when the disability payments were started, but when they shuffled off this mortal coil, the checks kept coming.

The report outlines several reasons for the errors, including reorganizations and the complete loss of staff at the Special Fund, leaving a void of institutional knowledge and process. It also provides information that could indicate that the fund had relied for years on unreliable sources of information in determining the deaths of their benefit recipients. It notes that there was no criminal activity on the part of fund employees.

Instead, the criminals appear to be the family members who failed to notify the fund that their disabled relative had performed the mortal coil shuffle. It turns out continuing to accept and spend money that is not rightfully yours is a crime. Some of the families have indicated confusion over the continuing benefits, but even Scooby Doo could have figured this one out. Unless you are Hillary Clinton, ignorance of the law or lack of intent is no excuse for breaking it.

According to the report: 

As a result of this Special Fund program review, the Fund has identified sixty (60) accounts that have or have had overpayment balances. Outstanding overpayments initially amounted to $562,573.83. 

Since the appointment of Secretary Roberts and Inspector General Wright in December of 2019, the OIG has investigated and identified $252,595.12 in overpayments that are recoverable, providing banking information, account balances, and contact information to the Department of Workers’ Claims. OIG has referred back to the Department twenty-one (21) of the thirty-four (34) referred cases to pursue further collection efforts. Those recoverables are further broken down as: 

  • Funds repaid, returned or reclaimed – $85,541.03 (cash in hand) 
  • Funds sitting in bank accounts to be recovered – $107,662.16 
  • Funds requiring criminal, civil, or repayment plans – $59,391.93 

Special Fund still has overpayments amounting to $309,978.71 that remain to be investigated and recouped through the combined efforts of OIG and the Department of Workers’ Claims. Included in this amount: 

  • are twenty-six (26) “smaller SF cases” all under $1,500.00, totaling $10,048.88, which to date have not required investigative efforts from OIG 
  • and thirteen (13) active OIG cases, totaling a potential $299,929.83 in overpayments. 

Ruht roh. That last line is an indication that things may not be looking too bright for the families of 13 deceased benefit recipients. They accepted (and presumably spent) almost $300,000 in funds that they were not legally entitled to. While mistakes were clearly made at the state agencies responsible for the fund, those families had the ultimate responsibility to inform the fund of the death of their loved one. They failed to do so and illicitly profited from that lack of action.  

There is no evidence, despite persistent rumors, that the dead recipients are still voting in some elections.

Numerous media accounts portray some of these families in a sympathetic light. They were said to be “confused” or didn’t understand. Some of us are not swayed by that argument. It should be fairly clear that “till death do us part” most often includes benefit or entitlement payments. It is easy to blame a state agency for mistakes made. We shouldn’t forget those who likely acted (or failed to properly act) with obvious intent in the commission of a crime. 

It turns out that “bring out your dead” (and stop collecting their benefits) is pretty solid advice.

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