Social Security:

Major Changes Needed for Disability Benefits for Addicts

HEHS-94-128: Published: May 13, 1994. Publicly Released: May 13, 1994.

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Jane L. Ross
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effectiveness of Social Security Administration (SSA) controls over disability payments made to drug addicts and alcoholics.

GAO found that: (1) in the last 5 years, the number of addicts receiving disability benefits has grown from fewer than 100,000 to about 250,000; (2) the cost of providing disability benefits to the addict population is about $1.4 billion per year; (3) the vast majority of addicts receiving disability benefits are not in treatment or their treatment status is unknown; (4) because of poor monitoring by SSA, only about 1 in 5 of the addicts in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) drug addiction and alcoholism (DA&A) program receive required treatment; (5) about 100,000 addicts have not been assigned a third-party or representative payee to manage their benefits; (6) organizational payees are better positioned than friends or relatives to provide tight controls over benefit payments; and (7) SSA needs to ensure that all DA&A recipients are in treatment and that all addicts have a third-party or representative payee.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 1994, Congress extended the treatment requirement to SSA's Disability Insurance Program for those whose addiction is material to the finding of disability. Congress also limited benefit payments to such addicts for 36 months.

    Matter: Congress should consider expanding the treatment requirement to all addicts and restructuring the DA&A program to improve the payoff from treatment.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On March 29, 1996, President Clinton signed Public Law 104-121, which terminates DI and SSI benefits to drug addicts and alcoholics as of January 1, 1997, effectively nullifying the GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to strengthen controls over disability benefits paid to addicts by: (1) establishing referral and monitoring agencies (RMA) in all states; (2) taking appropriate measures to ensure that all DA&A recipients are in treatment and accounted for and monitored as required; (3) requiring all addicts receiving SSI and Disability Insurance benefits to have representative payees; and (4) using organizational payees for addicts to the maximum extent possible and considering making RMA representative payees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services


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