Social Security's 72,000 Checks to Dead People—Fact Checked

Why the big news about the Social Security checks sent to the dead and imprisoned isn't really big news at all.

Apparently nearly 72,000 Social Security checks went to dead people and another 17,000 went to people in prison last year, which makes for an attention-grabbing headline, right? Ours was inspired by a similar one over at 24/7 Wall St. And at Business Insider. And the Daily Beast. And the WSJ. And on and on and on.

The numbers seem to be very much true, according to a new report from the Social Security Administration about Economic Recovery Payments made in 2009. Indeed, almost 72,000 checks went to people who were dead by the time the check went to them, and another 17,000 or so went to people in prison.

According to the report, the total accidental amount sent out was around $22.3 million—an amount I would surely like to have in my bank account, but hardly a bank-breaker in the grand scheme of things—and half of that has been returned.

With that half returned, we're presumably talking about an $11 million mistake. Which isn't really big news, unless of course you are looking for reasons why Social Security is a disaster, and the economic recovery plan a waste of money.