Social Security:

Disability Benefits for Drug Addicts and Alcoholics Are Out of Control

T-HEHS-94-101: Published: Feb 10, 1994. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) payment of disability benefits to drug addicts and alcoholics. GAO noted that: (1) the number of addicts receiving disability benefits has substantially increased at an annual cost of about $1.4 billion; (2) SSA does not adequately monitor addicts receiving disability benefits and does not know the treatment status of most addicts; (3) most addicts receiving disability benefits are not required to be in treatment programs; (4) only about one-fifth of the addicts that are required to be in treatment programs are in drug treatment; (5) states without referral and monitoring agencies (RMA) have fewer drug addiction and alcoholism (DA&A) program participants because SSA and state disability determination offices in these states give a low priority to identifying such addicts; (6) SSA is establishing RMA in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; (7) about 100,000 addicts do not have representative payees to manage their disability benefits; (8) it is questionable how well representative payees control the use of addicts' benefits; (9) organizational payees make better representative payees than addicts' relatives and friends, since they have better control over benefit payments to addicts and are better able to deal with abusive or threatening addicts; and (10) SSA has difficulty in finding qualified representative payees for addicts, since payees are generally unpaid and serve on a voluntary basis.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: In view of the 20 years of experience with the program and the limited progress in addressing the problems of addicted beneficiaries, Congress should reconsider the DA&A program's basic design including alternative approaches.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is similar to the recommendation listed in report number HEHS-94-128 (report date 5/13/94, accession number 151559) and, therefore, should be closed. The report's form 66 will remain open until the agency has fully taken action on the recommendations.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should seek whatever additional legislative authority may be needed to meet these ends.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation was addressed in the passage of the Social Security Administration Reform Act of 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to strengthen the controls over disability benefits paid to addicts by considering making RMA the representative payees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is identical to the recommendation listed in report number HEHS-94-128 (report date 5/13/94, accession number 151559) and, therefore, should be closed. The report's form 66 will remain open until the agency has fully taken action on the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to strengthen the controls over disability benefits paid to addicts by using organizational payees for addicts to the maximum extent possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is identical to the recommendation listed in report number HEHS-94-128 (report date 5/13/94, accession number 151559) and, therefore, should be closed. The report's form 66 will remain open until the agency has fully taken action on the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to strengthen the controls over disability benefits paid to addicts by requiring all addicts receiving Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Benefits to have a representative payee.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is identical to the recommendation listed in report number HEHS-94-128 (report date 5/13/94, accession number 151559) and, therefore, should be closed. The report's form 66 will remain open until the agency has fully taken action on the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to strengthen the controls over disability benefits paid to addicts by taking appropriate measures to ensure that all DA&A program participants are accounted for and monitored as required.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is identical to the recommendation listed in report number HEHS-94-128 (report date 5/13/94, accession number 151559) and, therefore, should be closed. The report's form 66 will remain open until the agency has fully taken action on the recommendation.

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