SSA needs stronger overpayment recovery and dispute tools, says GAO

Tools

The Social Security Administration is overpaying billions of dollars in supplemental security income disbursements and its unmonitored waiver process allows for further abuse of the system, says the Government Accountability Office.

In a Dec. 14 report (.pdf), GAO says that the agency overpaid eligible aged, blind or disabled beneficiaries by more than $3.3 billion in fiscal 2010. By the end of fiscal 2011, the total overpayment debt of the supplemental security income system equaled $7.3 billion, almost double from the $3.8 billion in debt held in fiscal 2007.

To address overpayments due to unreported bank accounts or wages, about $1.7 billion in annual overpayments, the SSA has developed the Access to Financial Institutions initiative. AFI conducts electronic searches in roughly 96 percent of financial institutions where SSI recipients have a direct deposit account. The agency said AFI should save it $365 million in fiscal 2013.

Over the period of fiscal 2007 to 2011, the amount of overpayment debt recovered yearly also increased from $860 million to $1.2 billion. SSA attributes the increase to the 2.4 million reviews of payments conducted in fiscal 2011, a 136 percent increase from fiscal 2007, and the report says these audits will save $3.2 billion in lifetime overpayments.

In fiscal 2011, SSA obtained 75 percent of recovered overpayment debt by withholding a portion of the recipient's ongoing payments. However, if beneficiaries feel this withholding is in error or would be a hardship, they can request a waiver of repayment.

GAO says that "agencies must have controls in place to ensure that no individual can control all key aspects of a transaction or event," but says the SSA has no controls in place for waivers of $2,000 or less.

Claims representatives have authority to unilaterally approve these wavers and in fiscal 2011 about 76 percent of waivers were approved. The total amount of overpayment dollars waved reached $167 million, averaging $795 per waiver.

 "Management oversight of the SSI overpayment waiver decision process is limited," says GAO, which means that the agency cannot identify potential negative trends or improper actions in these waivers.

For more:
- read the report, GAO-13-109 (.pdf)

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