Ted Katz, a 34-year-old claims representative for the Social Security Administration in New York City, isn't quite sure how a money-saving idea that he proposed three years ago finally got implemented, but he's glad it did. He's also $5,000 (minus taxes) richer.

Katz came up with the idea in 1979 when the daughter of a deceased Social Security beneficiary returned 24 checks to him that the government had continued to send after her parent's death.

"I couldn't believe that no one had caught the mistake," Katz explained. So the GS10, who earns $22,164 per year, wrote the SSA's top brass, suggesting they compare their computer records against Medicare records to determine if any other beneficiaries were dead.

"They told me the Medicare records weren't accurate," Katz explained in an interview yesterday. "I forgot about it until last year when I read the department had started matching the records. I wrote the agency a letter and said, 'Hey, that was my idea.' "

Katz received a belated $5,000 award last week from Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker, who reminded everyone that the Carter administration had ignored Katz's suggestion. Michael Cesario, the staffer in the inspector general's office who actually put the matching program into effect, got a $2,500 check.

The computer matching project found that roughly 5,000 people who were dead were still getting benefits; HHS estimates Katz's idea could save $30 million in erroneous payments.

As for Katz, he plans to buy a stereo record player and "think of more ideas."