Almost half the people receiving Social Security disability benefits over the past ten years were overpaid, according to a new report from the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General. The finding is raising new questions in Congress about the Social Security’s Administration’s management of the disability program, which is projected to become insolvent by the end of 2016.
According to the report, which followed the same sample group of 1,532 beneficiaries from October 2003 through February 2014, the Social Security Administration assessed overpayments totaling about $16.8 billion for approximately 4 million beneficiaries based on overpayments of 44.5% of the sample group. About 8.9 million people were receiving disability payments in October 2003.
Of the $16.8 billion, the Inspector General estimates that $8.1 billion was recovered. But it can take years for the Social Security Administration to recover overpayments, and the report said that 26% of the overpayments assessed in 2004 were still outstanding as of February 2014. The agency is still attempting to recover about $6.3 billion, and about $2.4 billion has been waived or cancelled.
The overpayments were caused by a number of reasons, most frequently an increase in work activity, change in income, or medical improvement. To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, applicants must be unable to perform “substantial” work due to a disabling medical condition.
Previous audits by the Inspector General have recommended that the Social Security Administration should allocate sufficient resources to performing more timely continuing disability reviews (CDRs) for disabled beneficiaries, in an effort to determine whether they remain medically eligible for the payments. In general, the reviews take place every three to seven years, the frequency determined on the severity of disability and the likelihood of improvement, but recent cutbacks in administrative funding have resulted in large numbers of beneficiaries who are overdue for a CDR.
There’s widespread support among TSCL poll participants for the reviews. When asked which is the best way to fix the Social Security Disability Insurance program, 45 percent of those responding favored more annual continuing eligibility reviews and tightening eligibility criteria to reduce fraud and abuse. TSCL has long supported more timely and rigorous CDRs to ensure that scarce disability funds go only to those entitled to the benefits.
The Social Security Administration paid out $141.3 billion in benefits last year to some 8,955 million disabled workers, together with 1,977 spouses and children who get benefits on their account. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is about $1,165, or $13,980 per year.
Sources: “Report: Social Security Overpaid Disability Recipients $17 Billion,” Stephen Ohlemacher, The Associated Press, June 7, 2015. “Overpayments In The Social Security Administration’s Disability Programs — A 10-Year Study,” Social Security Administration Office Of The Inspector General, June 2015, A-01-14-24114.