Social Security payments: $6.5 billion in overpayments
Social Security payments were made to seniors in 2009, federal investigator says. One in 10 Social Security payments to very poor were improper.
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Colvin said Social Security has been increasing the number of reviews it completes each year to make sure beneficiaries still meet income and medical requirements. The agency also has stepped up the use of technology to make sure recipients don't exceed income or asset limits.Skip to next paragraph
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Social Security's finances face regular scrutiny because the trust funds that support the massive retirement and disability program are projected to run out of money by 2036, unless Congress acts to shore up the program. At that point, Social Security would collect enough in payroll taxes to pay about 75 percent of benefits.
Social Security administers the Supplemental Security Income program, but it is financed separately, by the government's general revenues. Reducing overpayments by SSI could save taxpayers billions, but it would not affect the finances of the larger retirement and disability programs.
About 99.5 percent of all retirement and disability payments were accurate in 2009, O'Carroll said. In all, the agency made $660 billion in retirement, survivor and disability payments in 2009, including an estimated $2.5 billion in overpayments and $600 million in underpayments, O'Carroll said.
"While we are justifiably proud of our consistently high accuracy rate for (retirement, survivors and disability) payments, we recognize our responsibility to maintain and improve our performance," Colvin said.
She said policing the Supplemental Security Income program is more difficult because benefits can change each month based on changes in income and living arrangements. To qualify for the program, beneficiaries must be 65 or older, blind or disabled, and have very limited resources.
Couples can own a maximum of $3,000 in assets, including cash, stock, second vehicles and personal property. Homes and primary vehicles are excluded.
In 2009, the Supplemental Security Income program made payments totaling $48.3 billion, including an estimated $4 billion in overpayments and $800 million in underpayments.
O'Carroll said most of the overpayments went to people who didn't report all the property they owned.
Democrats complained that the agency's efforts to reduce overpayments are not adequately funded.
"My colleagues seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room — you get what you pay for," said Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security. "Today's hearing should really be about examining the reckless and indiscriminate cuts imposed onSocial Security's operations which, the evidence shows, could lead to less precision and efficiency in processing claims and benefits for seniors and the disabled."
The current budget for all federal agencies was negotiated by Obama and leaders from both parties in Congress, though many Democrats have been critical of some cuts.