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Social Security issues aren't helped by agency's overpayments

One of the big headlines of the past week appears to turn up the heat on the Social Security Administration and the issues the government is facing regarding the solvency of the disability insurance program.

In case you missed it, the SSA's Office of Inspector General issued a report stating that in the past 10 years, the agency overpaid nearly half of the people receiving disability benefits through either the Social Security Disability Insurance program or the Supplemental Security Income program.

The latter program is a separately funded operation aimed at helping poor disabled individuals. According to the report, the amount overpaid over the decade time span was about $17 billion and only about half of it has been recovered.

There is no indication that the payments were a result of some fraudulent scheme. Rather, a lot of the money was paid either to people who earned too much income to be eligible for SSI or to people who had been disabled and continued to receive benefits after they no longer qualified. Some payments were made to individuals who were dead or incarcerated and ineligible.

As many California readers likely know, these revelations come as the SSDI system faces significant financial challenges. The fund that supplies SSDI could run out of reserves late next year and force a reduction in benefits unless Congress takes action.

The latest report doesn't seem to feed the position of critics who suggest fraud is the big problem. But some lawmakers on Capitol Hill say such waste points to administrative issues within the agency and they say suggest those need to be addressed.

What this may mean in the long run is hard to gauge. What we know now is that the process of applying for SSDI or SSI benefits is complex in the best of times. And it doesn't get any easier when the individual is a deserving disabled applicant. To ease the strain of the process, it's best to consult with an attorney who is a veteran of it.

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Melissa A. Proudian, Attorney at Law
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Fresno, CA 93711

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