WASHINGTON — This week, Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a series of bills to strengthen the integrity of the unemployment insurance (UI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.
SSI provides monthly checks to low-income disabled and elderly individuals. Like the UI program, it wastes billions of taxpayer dollars in improper payments. These payments occur when taxpayer funds go to the wrong recipient, in the wrong amount, without proper documentation, or when the recipient uses taxpayer funds inappropriately. Specifically, in fiscal year 2014, SSI made $5.1 billion in improper payments, or about 9.2 percent of the total. The UI program has an even worse track record, making $5.6 billion in improper payments in fiscal year 2014, or 11.6 percent of the total. Since fiscal year 2007, each program has had an annual improper payment rate near 10 percent, resulting in a total of $32 billion in SSI and $67 billion in UI improper payments—or nearly $100 billion in wasted spending between these two key safety net programs in recent years. Both programs are under the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee and specifically its Human Resources Subcommittee.
This week, the committee’s Republican members introduced bills to reduce improper payments:
- H.R. 2504, the CUFF Act (Control Unlawful Fugitive Felons Act): Introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), a member of the Human Resources Subcommittee, along with Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), the chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, this bill would prevent fugitive felons and probation and parole violators from collecting SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
- H.R. 2503, the PERP Act (Permanently Ending Receipt by Prisoners Act): Introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), the former chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee and now chairman of Select Revenue Measures, this bill would prevent prison inmates from collecting UI benefits. News articles in recent years have detailed how prisoners in multiple states have collected UI checks while behind bars, despite apparent restrictions on this practice.
- H.R. 2509, the Flexibility to Promote Reemployment Act: Introduced by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), a former member of the Human Resources Subcommittee. This bill would provide new flexibility for states to help the unemployed return to work. The UI program has fallen far short of expectations in helping the unemployed return to work, and the resulting payment of more UI benefits for longer periods has contributed significantly to increased UI improper payments in recent years.
- H.R. 2512, the Furloughed Federal Employee Double Dip Elimination Act: Introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the chairman of the Health Subcommittee, this bill would prevent furloughed federal employees from collecting UI benefits during a furlough for which they later receive back pay, which constitutes inappropriate double dipping, as was widely reported in 2013.
- H.R. 2511, the “SAIL Act” (School Attendance Improves Lives Act): Introduced by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), a former member of the Human Resources Subcommittee. This bill encourages youth to graduate high school by requiring students to remain in school to receive SSI. The bill makes appropriate exceptions for those whose health does not permit them to attend school. The ultimate goal is to encourage the achievement necessary for long-term self-sufficiency. The need for reform is supported by a 2009 study that found “30 percent of all child SSI recipients had dropped out of school. By comparison, the dropout rate among all youth ages 16 to 24 in the general population is 10 percent.” By requiring children to remain in school as they receive SSI, these individuals will increase their likelihood of graduation, obtaining employment and breaking out of poverty.
Other bills to prevent improper payments in UI and SSI have previously been introduced in the 114th Congress, including:
- H.R. 981, the Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act: Introduced by Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson, this bill would prevent individuals from simultaneously collecting UI and disability benefits from the SSI or SSDI programs. UI benefits are provided to individuals who are able and available to work, while disability benefits are paid to individuals who are unable to work because of a disability, meaning the same person should not qualify for both benefits.
- H.R. 2359, the Disability FRAUD Prevention Act: Introduced by Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), the chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee. This legislation would impose appropriate civil monetary penalties and felony charges on those defrauding SSI and SSDI and related benefits. Recent disability scandals in West Virginia, New York, and Puerto Rico highlight the need to strengthen and expand Social Security’s penalties on those who would abuse these important benefits.
- H.R. 1936, the Improving the Integrity of Disability Evidence Act: Introduced by Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson, this bill would ensure the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses medical evidence only from reputable sources when making a disability determination. Specifically, it would prohibit SSA from considering medical evidence from doctors who are barred from participating in Medicare or who were previously assessed a civil monetary penalty by SSA for submitting false evidence. According to a 2013 report, some claimant representatives have sought out evaluations from such “dirty docs”—doctors who will provide medical opinions leading to a disability-benefit award without question.