Real Clear Investigations: #WasteOfTheDay Week 153 15_wotd_wk_153

January 15, 2024 12:50 PM



Social Security Withholds $132 Million From Widows

January 15, 2024


The Social Security Administration is perpetrating a scam on some of society’s most vulnerable — recently widowed senior citizens — and withholding millions of dollars of earned benefits.

Economist and Boston University professor Larry Kotlikoff, partly responsible for the Auerbach-Kotlikoff model widely used by economists, recently wrote in Substack that SSA staff aren’t informing recently widowed senior citizens of their true benefits.

“When you are eligible to collect a widow’s or divorced widow’s benefit, you don’t have to file for your own retirement benefit at the same time, and vice versa,” he writes. “Since the system will pay you only the larger of the two benefits, it’s always best to take one benefit first while letting the other grow.”

But that’s not something he encountered on a recent call with SSA and a client who was trying to determine her benefits shortly after her spouse died.

Instead, the widow was told she must file for all benefits at the same time for which she is eligible.

Based on Kotlikoff’s calculations, doing so would cost her over $400,000 in present value.

Sadly, this was not an isolated case, it happens all the time. Kotlikoff asked the agent “whether she had been trained to automatically file everyone for whatever benefits they could immediately receive. She said yes.”

In fact, the Social Security inspector general issued a report in 2018 that found the agency wasn’t informing widow(er) beneficiaries of their option to delay their application for retirement benefits, a move that would have allowed them to collect the higher payouts to which they are entitled.

The report estimated 11,123 people “would have been eligible for a higher monthly benefit amount had they delayed their retirement application until age 70.”  Of that group, they estimated SSA underpaid about $131.8 million to 9,224 beneficiaries who were age 70 and older.

They also estimated SSA “will underpay an additional 1,899 beneficiaries who were under age 70 about $9.8 million, annually, beginning in the year they attain age 70.”

“We did not find any evidence SSA had informed claimants of the option to delay their retirement application when they applied for benefits, as required,” the inspector general wrote.

The almost six-year-old report clearly didn’t put an end to the problem and, based on the inspector general’s estimates, beneficiaries are being underpaid almost $10 million every year.



Medical School Hires Dean’s Daughter As Poetry Professor

January 16, 2024


Two TV series targeting teens, “13 Reasons Why” and “Euphoria” — one of which was linked to a spike in teen suicide and the other is considered soft porn — received $94 million in California tax credits.

TV series “13 Reasons Why,” produced by Paramount, was linked to a spike in teen suicide, according to the National Institutes of Health. Seasons 1-4 of the show received $45.8 million in reserved tax credits, Adam Andrzejewski, OpenTheBooks CEO/Founder, wrote on Substack.

“Euphoria,” the pilot and seasons 1-3, produced by Warner Brothers, received $48.4 million in reserved tax credits. That series came under fire as soft porn for teens, glamorizing sex among high schoolers, violence and drug use.

California’s program through the California Film Commission hands out $330 million annually in tax credits to incentivize filmmakers to produce their projects in the state. The tax credits also became refundable last year, allowing companies to get cash back, rather than just reducing their tax liability. 

Netflix told shareholders that it has more credits than it can use, and lobbied for the refund. Since July 2020, the streaming company has been allocated nearly $180 million in tax credits.

While the tax credits for “13 Reasons Why” came while Newsom was Lt. Governor, “Euphoria” received its most recent credit while Newsom was governor.

The governor and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, have made teen mental health a top public concern, yet neither have spoken out against either harmful series.

Paramount produced “13 Reasons Why” and Netflix distributed it. Warner Bros. Discovery produced “Euphoria” and HBO (a Warner Bros company) distributed it. All the companies have executives that funded the Newsom campaigns, OpenTheBooks reported.

Paramount, its executives, and employees donated $84,773 to Newsom’s campaign between 2018 and 2022. Paramount is owned by National Amusements, a merger of CBS and Viacom and later rebranded under Paramount Global.

Warner Bros. Discovery, its executives, and employees gave the Newsom campaign $96,280. The company was formed in 2022 by a merger between WarnerMedia, which spun off from AT&T, and Discovery, Inc.

Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings gave the anti-recall campaign against Gov. Newsom $3 million and company executives and Netflix employees gave Newsom’s campaign $170,000.

While supporters of the tax programs argue it helps keep jobs, private sector spending, and industry innovation in the state, critics contend the tax incentives don’t create permanent jobs or encourage new economic activity. Instead, big studios reap the economic benefits, while states offer bigger and better tax deals.



Ending National Heritage Program Would Save $29 Million Annually

January 17, 2024


The last two U.S. presidents supported cutting funding for the National Heritage Areas created by Congress, and doing so would save $29 million, according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s annual report “Prime Cuts,” a list of recommendations to reduce the record national debt.

There are currently 62 National Heritage Areas. Not all receive federal support, but those that do received $7 million in earmarks in FY 2023, or 42.9 percent more than the $4.9 million earmarked in FY 2022.

“National Heritage Areas are places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes,” the National Park Service website states.  “Unlike national parks, National Heritage Areas are large lived-in landscapes. Consequently, National Heritage Area entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.”

National Heritage Areas are not national park units but are operated by the National Park Service and have received 56 earmarks totaling $153.4 million since FY 2001. They have funded projects like park improvements, sports complexes, health centers, water quality monitoring, bike paths, sustainable agriculture and agricultural tourism, according to CAGW.

Each of former President Barak Obama’s budgets from FY 2011 through FY 2017 slashed funding for National Heritage Areas. The FY 2017 version of CAGW’s report recommended trimming the budget by 55 percent, from $20 million to $9 million.

The last three of former President Donald Trump’s proposed budgets called for ending the Heritage Partnership Program, which funds the areas, saving $22 million. The 2021 report noted there is no “systematic process for designating Heritage Partnership Areas or determining their effectiveness,” and made the same argument that former President Obama made in his FY 2011 budget that funding for the Heritage Partnership Program diverted resources from core National Park Service responsibilities.

Unfortunately, members of Congress ignore these proposed budget reductions that have bipartisan support.



Throwback Thursday: In 2008, Search for Aliens Gets $9.4 Million in Federal Grants

January 18, 2024


Throwback Thursday! 

In 2008, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute in California, or SETI Institute, collected $9.4 million in federal grants — $13.4 million in 2024 dollars — to search for aliens in outer space, as its name obviously implies.

That’s according to the “Wastebook” reporting published by the late U.S. Senator Dr. Tom Coburn. For years, these reports shined a white-hot spotlight on federal frauds and taxpayer abuses.

Coburn, a U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, earned the nickname "Dr. No" by stopping thousands of pork-barrel projects using the Senate rules. Projects that he couldn't stop, Coburn included in his oversight reports.  

 Coburn's Wastebook 2008 included 65 examples of outrageous spending worth more than $1.3 billion, including the $9.4 million in grants to the SETI Institute. 

“The SETI Institute is devoted to searching for life in outer space, but has not had any luck yet,” Sen. Coburn quipped in his 2008 report.

Some of that funding came by way of a member of Congress securing $1.6 million from the budget of the Defense Department.

“I think most people think there are aliens out there,” said John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists, commenting several years ago on public investments for SETI. “With the limitations in space and time I don't think we'll ever see any of them. But communicating with them is another matter. It's awfully expensive and difficult to try to send a human being through space, but sending radio signals, that's cheap.”

Many American taxpayers might take issue with his definition of “cheap,” considering $9.4 million is more money than most will ever see.



NYC Mayor's 293 Special Assistants Cost $24.3 Million

January 19, 2024


Mayor Eric Adams’ administration had 293 “special assistants” on the payroll during his first full fiscal year in office, even more than his predecessor who was criticized for having too many, the New York Post reported.

“The bloated band of vaguely titled aides, accountable only to Adams, comprised roughly one-third of the Mayor’s Office staff during the yearly period ending June 30 and cost taxpayers $24.3 million,” the Post reported from city payroll records.

Eighty-five of those assistants were paid six-figures in FY 2023 – including 13 who took in more than $200,000.

At one point, Adam's predecessor, former Mayor Bill De Blasio, had even more special assistants, reaching a high of a high of 339 in FY 2019. De Blasio was criticized for using special assistants to get around civil service rules and give political operatives jobs.

Without civil service rules governing the positions, the mayor can set salaries and raises beyond the normal ranges for comparable positions.

“De Blasio infamously used the special-assistant gigs in part to take care of political operatives biding their time waiting for the next campaign — a kind of publicly funded farm system akin to the ones used by Major League Baseball teams,” The Post wrote.

By FY 2021, de Blasio trimmed his number of special assistants to 243, costing taxpayers $21.1 million, The Post reported.

Adams announced last year that the expected $12 billion cost of helping asylum-seeking migrants necessitated across-the-board 5% cuts at all city agencies, with another 10% cut planned for early this year.

But taxpayer-watchdog group Empire Center for Public Policy Research Director Ken Girardin said Adams’ desire to “bloat” his payroll with almost 300 special assistants “only weakens his case for more federal and state support” to help the city deal with the migrant crisis.

The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at

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