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GAO criticizes SSA overpayments

Many Americans live with a disability and need financial support. The Social Security Administration Disability Insurance program is vital because it provides workers with disabilities with cash benefits. However, a U.S. General Accounting report issued in October found that the SSA overpaid $11 billion to beneficiaries who returned to work and had earnings exceeding the program's limits.

Additionally, the GAO found that there was approximately $1.4 billion in overpayments related to work activity that was waived and will not be repaid because the SSA determined that the beneficiary was not at fault. For fiscal year 2013, the SSA reported $1.3 billion in SSDI overpayments.

Federal regulations require that beneficiaries promptly notify SSA of their work activity such as starting a job or a change in wages. Failure to report specified activities can lead to overpayments that beneficiaries have to repay.

Program overpayments may penalize beneficiaries because they must repay excess benefits. Taxpayer dollars are also lost if overpayments are not repaid or waived by SSA.

The GAO found that SSA's processes for handling beneficiary work reports do not have internal controls and that there are other deficiencies that increase the risk of overpayments even when SSDI beneficiaries follow reporting requirements. For example, SSA staff bypassed procedures requiring tracking of work activity and issuing reports to beneficiaries that prove that the work was reported.

The SSA lacks procedures governing how its staff should screen work reports and for ensuring that these reports are systematically reviewed and closed with appropriate action. The SSDI program does not have automated tools for reporting work such as an automated telephone system and a smart phone app. because its manual approach may cause errors.

The GAO also found that the SSA also lacked adequate controls to decide requests for waiving overpayments, especially those involving low dollar amounts. A 2015 SSA Office of Inspector General Study also revealed significant variation among field offices with SSDI and waiver approval rates. Some field offices with higher approval rates also issued more waivers under $1,000 which required less documentation.

GAO made seven recommendations which included that the SSA study automated options and that it improve oversight of work reports and waivers. SSA agreed with six recommendations.

Legal assistance can help assure that SSA beneficiaries promptly receive any entitled benefits and do not fall victim to confusion caused by changes in SSA's procedures. Legal representation can help assure that any problems are resolved promptly.

Source: General Accounting Office, "SSA could do more to prevent overpayments or incorrect waivers to beneficiaries," Accessed Nov. 20, 2015

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