According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made significant overpayments to some recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance, causing some of those individuals a great deal of trouble. The SSA is reluctant to admit the mistakes, but worker advocacy groups and beneficiaries’ attorneys say the agency is to blame.
The GAO recently conducted an audit that shows the SSA overpaid $1.3 billion in benefits over a two-year span. While some portion of that figure may be attributed to fraud, many innocent beneficiaries have received erroneous payments and have either tried to stop them or have not realized what was happening.
Steve Lord, a director at the GAO in charge of investigations and audits, says that the SSA should reallocate its resources to prevent such mistakes.
“Right now getting people off the [disability] rolls is secondary,” Lord told CNN. “They have to balance their resources between getting people off the rolls and getting people on the rolls.”
The SSA touts the accuracy of its accounting as nearly perfect, despite tight funding and an increased workload. The agency has lost approximately 11,000 employees since 2011. Meanwhile, as Baby Boomers age and become more prone to disability, the beneficiary rolls and applications have swelled.
Recent high-profile stories by media outlets such as NPR’s “This American Life” and CBS’s “60 Minutes” have highlighted limited instances of fraud within the Social Security Disability Insurance program. It is possible that these programs have left the public with a skewed understanding of the scope of the problem. Unfortunately, the SSA’s own response to concerns about the overpayments may be contributing to a narrative of widespread fraud and abuse.
Cheryl Bates-Harris of the National Disability Rights Network says the agency is quick to attribute the errors to malicious intent on the part of beneficiaries.
“It doesn’t want to admit it’s culpable, so it throws the responsibility on the beneficiaries . . . but there are critical failures within its system,” Bates-Harris told CNN.
In cases where the SSA makes an overpayment, the administration is likely to catch the mistake at a later date and then tell the recipient they must pay back the difference. This can be a serious setback for financially struggling families, who are very likely to have spent all available income on their living expenses already.
To avoid overpayments, be sure to report a change of income or a new job to the SSA right away. If you know you are being overpaid, notify the agency and keep a careful record of the amounts overpaid. If possible, keep the funds in a separate account.
If you receive a notice of overpayment that you believe to be erroneous, you may request a reconsideration. If you know you were overpaid, but you believe you were not at fault or you cannot repay the money, you can request a waiver. Whatever decision the agency renders in these procedures may be appealed, which is often a lengthy process. In all cases, when in doubt, consult with an experienced Social Security disability attorney.