NBC 10 I-Team: North Providence man wrongly declared dead
Jim Fundakowski of North Providence is very much alive -- but not in the eyes of the federal government, where an error at the Social Security Administration declared him deceased.
As a result, his disability benefits were cut off, causing financial chaos in his life.
Fundakowski said an official at the Social Security Administration’s Pawtucket office told him he died August 24.
“It's crazy,” he said. “I don't believe it. Everyone I've talked to says, you've got to be kidding me.’”
With Halloween right around the corner, Fundakowski has become a sort of real life zombie because his name was erroneously added to the SSA’s so-called Master Death File. He’s permanently disabled and saw his benefits cut off on October 1.
To make matters worse, the government withdrew September’s benefits from his checking account remotely, leaving him overdrawn and stressed out.
"This is what my wife and I live on,” he said. “This money is everything to us. Without it, we can't survive."
Fundakowski has company. A 2011 federal audit found as many as 12,000 people are sent to their grave by errors at the SSA each year -- although they are alive and well.
He called Senator Jack Reed’s office looking for help and the NBC 10 I-Team caught up with the senator in Cranston Thursday.
"Hopefully, within a very short period of time, he'll have his benefits restored,” Reed told NBC 10.
Senator Reed’s office also said Fundakowski’s banks will be asked to waive any overdraft fees resulting from the error.
NBC 10 contacted the SSA’s regional office in Boston. Communications Director Stephen Richardson said in an email, “We have been in direct contact with Mr. Fundakowski to address his concerns and we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. We are investigating his case to determine the reason his benefits were interrupted, and will work to reinstate his payments as soon as possible.”
Richardson said 2.8 million deaths were reported to the SSA nationwide last year, and about 7,400 of those were incorrect, meaning the people involved were still alive. Overall, those mistakes accounted for less than one third of one percent of all deaths reported, Richardson said.
As of Thursday afternoon, Fundakowski said some of the missing money had come through, but not all of it. The one thing he wants most, he said, is an apology.
"And they don't seem to care,” he said. “You're just a number. They don't realize what they've done."