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Keep Social Security honest

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, September 16, 2013
Posted: 10 am ET

The Social Security Administration has paid more than $1.29 billion in excess payments to 36,000 people from December 2010 to January 2013. That's according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, after its audit of Social Security Disability Insurance.

That sounds like an enormous number, but Steve Lord, director of forensic audits and investigative services for GAO, points out that the Social Security Disability program is the nation's largest cash assistance program for the disabled, with more than 10 million people receiving more than $128 billion in benefits in 2012. This error -- if there was one -- represents less than 1 percent of the dollars spent by the program during the designated time period. Social Security believes the GAO overestimated the amount that was paid improperly.

The problem revolves around rules that allow people to either work a limited amount while they wait for benefits or work at a test job to see if they are able to forgo their benefits. In both cases, workers apparently continued to receive benefits after the test and waiting periods ended.

Lord points out that both of these programs require self-reporting, so consistency is always going to be a problem.

Every time I write about Social Security's retirement program, several readers point out their belief that Social Security Disability has recipients who shouldn't be benefiting because they are healthy enough to work. Lord acknowledges that and says, "This is a really important program for those truly in need. The Social Security Administration needs to enhance oversight to make sure that only those eligible for benefits receive benefits, especially as concerns grow about the solvency of the program."

Even if in the scheme of things this is a small amount of overpayment, $1.29 billion is a big number for a lot of people who have paid into Social Security and whose retirement planning depends on it. Social Security disability and retirement funds are separate pots of money, with the much smaller disability fund in much worse financial shape. It is expected to run too short of money in 2016 to pay all benefits. The likeliest fix is for Congress to move money from the much larger retirement fund. That's what it did in 1994, when there was a similar shortfall.

Borrowing isn't a good answer. Figuring out a system to uncover discrepancies and eliminate them is a step in the right direction for Social Security.

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Patricia Blackwell
September 02, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I am on disability and have been for a few years and I also had to work a part time job just meet my bills each month, until around the first of this year I received a letter from social security stating that I had made too much money back in 2012 and I would have to repay the overpayment, after taking several trips to my local office regarding this matter, I had received two more letters stating that my check would be taken at least one full month will be taken and then some time later in the next month they were taken over half of check for that month. Now will you please tell me just how am I suppose my rent, buy my food ,medication that I have to take daily during those months they take all of my only check that I live on? Please reply with an answer.

James Baker
September 01, 2014 at 3:53 am

Keep the governments hands out of our social security. We paid in for our retirements @ the government is steeling our money.

Joel Paul
October 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm

We have paid that money into social security and the "polititons" have STOLEN from it to put into their pockets and run this system into the ground. If anybody should have their salary's cut it should be them, along with all these give away programs and foreign aid that gets absolutely nowhere. If they cut off s/s and keep paying themselves better look out!!!!!

Yolanda kirk
October 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm

No more ss at 62. Are not saving enough. check doctor'reports closely Make
Them present similer opinions from 3 doctors for disability to be granted !