The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is the nation's largest cash assistance program for the poor. The program paid $33 billion in benefits to 6.8 million aged, blind, and disabled persons in fiscal year 2001. Benefit eligibility and payment amounts for the SSI population are determined by complex and often difficult to verify financial factors such as an individual's income, resource levels, and living arrangements. Thus, the SSI program tends to be difficult, labor intensive, and time consuming to administer. These factors make the SSI program vulnerable to overpayments. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has demonstrated a stronger commitment to SSI program integrity and taken many actions to better deter and detect overpayments. Specifically, SSA has (1) obtained legislative authority in 1999 to use additional tools to verify recipients' financial eligibility for benefits, including strengthening its ability to access individuals' bank account information; (2) developed additional measures to hold staff accountable for completing assigned SSI workloads and resolving overpayment issues; (3) provided field staff with direct access to state databases to facilitate more timely verification of recipient's wages and unemployment information; and (4) significantly increased, since 1998, the number of eligibility reviews conducted each year to verify recipient's income, resources, and continuing eligibility for benefits. In addition to better detection and deterrence of SSI overpayments, SSA has made recovery of overpaid benefits a high priority. Despite these efforts, further improvements in overpayment recovery are possible.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Social Security Administration||In order to further strengthen SSA's ability to deter, detect and recover SSI overpayments, the Commissioner of Social Security should sustain and expand the range of SSI program integrity activities underway and continue to develop additional tools to improve program operations and management. This would include increasing the number of SSI redeterminations conducted each year and fully implementing the overpayment detection and recovery tools provided in recent legislation.|
|Social Security Administration||In order to further strengthen SSA's ability to deter, detect and recover SSI overpayments, the Commissioner of Social Security should identify and move forward implementing cost-effective options for simplifying complex living arrangement and in-kind support and maintenance policies, with particular attention to those policies most vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse. An effective implementation strategy may include pilot testing of various options to more accurately assess their ultimate effects.|
|Social Security Administration||In order to further strengthen SSA's ability to deter, detect and recover SSI overpayments, the Commissioner of Social Security should evaluate current policies for imposing monetary policies and administrative sanctions and take action to remove any barriers to their usage or effectiveness. Such actions may include informing field staff on when and how these tools should be applied and studying the extent to which more frequent use deters recipient nonreporting.|
|Social Security Administration||In order to further strengthen SSA's ability to deter, detect and recover SSI overpayments, the Commissioner of Social Security should reexamine policies and procedures for SSI overpayment waivers and make revisions as appropriate. This should include an assessment of the current costs and benefits associated with the $500 waiver threshold and the extent to which staff correctly apply waiver policies.|