Funds Keep Flowing To Deceased Philly Pensioners

August 2, 2002 ( - Dying doesn't appear to be enough to stop the City of Philadelphia from continuing to send big benefit checks to its former beneficiaries.

According to a study by city Controller Jonathan Saidel, the city’s $6.5-billlion pension system paid as much as $2 million to 119 dead beneficiaries, a Reuters news report said.

With about 1,700 checks going out each month, Saidel is the first to admit there may be lots more dead pensioners getting city money. The fund has more than 60,000 members.

“From that small sample you can extrapolate to God knows how many people,” Saidel said, especially when there were no written policies. “The pension board never actively looked to see if people were still alive or if survivors were still alive.”

Dead Man Talking?

The average dead pension payout for the three years after the person passed away was $16,500.

However, in one notable instance, the city made monthly pension payments over 20 years totaling $123,100.  And don’t think pension officials will cut off the checks – even if the pensioner’s survivors ask.

One person, in an attempt to halt the checks for a tenth time, returned the envelope to the city, writing in large bold letters, “DEAD,” Died Over a Year Ago,” and “We Don’t Want Your Money,” Saidel said.

“It’s almost as if once you’re in the system you can’t get out of the system,” he said.

After informing the Board of Pensions that the controller’s office was conducting an audit, the board initiated a “death audit” three months later, but the query did not ask for a death certificate, Saidel said, only for a letter saying the beneficiary was still alive.

“The pension board and government never aggressively wanted to find out if someone was improperly getting a check,” he said.