Delivered As Promised

When the Recovery Act was signed into law a year and a half ago, we moved swiftly to provide immediate relief for millions of hard-hit Americans, from tax cuts for 95% of working families to $250 emergency relief checks for seniors and people with disabilities. The deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression called for an unprecedented response to help American families stay afloat – and we delivered. Within six weeks, tax cuts were being provided in 110 million Americans’ paychecks and within three months, nearly 52 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries were receiving checks in the mail.

A new report out finds that over 99.8% of these checks were delivered accurately. Of the remaining 0.2% (two-tenths of one percent), more than half have already been returned, meaning the “error rate” is 0.1%. Now, we strongly believe that no inaccuracy is acceptable, but magnitude matters here. Over 51.8 million individual checks worth over $12.9 billion were swiftly and accurately delivered to eligible recipients.

As to that 0.1%, let’s examine its size in historical context. In fact, the approximately 72,000 Recovery Act checks sent to people who had fallen off of the Social Security rolls because they passed away is a whole lot smaller than the more than 2 million checks worth as much as $1.5 billion that erroneously went out under the Bush tax rebate plan in 2001. [Los Angeles Times, 6/3/01] It’s also the case that the Social Security Administration is constantly updating its database, and government programs having to recover a small number of payments as eligibility changes is not uncommon.

That said, we still think it should continue to become far less common – and we won’t stop working on improving this process until we have an error-free program. And this doesn’t just apply to the Social Security Administration - the Administration has already taken aggressive new actions across the government to combat payment errors and ensure even higher accuracy rates than those reported today. But for the nearly 52 million Americans that received these checks, there is no question that in a time of great need, the Recovery Act delivered.

So when you hear a Republican Senator saying this morning “I strongly opposed this failed spending,” ask yourself, is he really willing to look 52 million Americans in the eye and tell them they didn’t need that $250 check?

Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President
Related Topics: Economy
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