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Paulsen Releases GAO Report on Supplemental Security Income Overpayments

December 17, 2012

Washington, DC – Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Acting Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways and Means, released a report prepared at his request by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  The report, titled “Supplemental Security Income: SSA Has Taken Steps to Prevent and Detect Overpayments but Additional Actions Could be Taken to Improve Oversight,” reviews the extent to which the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes and recovers overpayments from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.  

Acting Chairman Paulsen said, “This report highlights the challenges that the Social Security Administration (SSA) faces in administering a program as complicated as Supplemental Security Income.  While SSA has made progress in recovering overpayment debt, it also recognizes the need for new tools to collect more comprehensive and timely information to get the benefit amount correct at the earliest possible opportunity.  This confirms the best solution for SSA, its beneficiaries, and taxpayers is the prevention of overpayments.”

According to the GAO report, SSI overpayment debt has “nearly doubled” since 2002 to $7.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2011.  During the same period, overpayment debt collection has only grown modestly to $1.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2011, with three-quarters of that debt being collected by reducing current SSI recipients’ benefits.  In addition, SSA has been developing more automated tools, such as Access to Financial Institutions and Telephone Wage Reporting, to speed the processing of information.  However, as the GAO report reveals, SSA is also allowing its field office “claims representatives to unilaterally waive the repayment of overpayment amounts up to $2,000 without supervisory review and approval.”  GAO concluded that SSA should review its policies “concerning the supervisory review and approval of overpayment waiver decisions of $2,000 or less, to determine if the policy is still appropriate given that Federal agencies must have controls in place to ensure that no individual can control all key aspects of a transaction or event.”  The GAO report also recommended that SSA improve oversight to monitor the use of these waivers to identify trends and patterns of use.  


The SSI program is administered by SSA and provides cash assistance to disabled and aged individuals with limited income and assets.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in Fiscal Year 2013, the program will make payments to more than 8 million people at a cost to the Federal government of about $53 billion.  In Fiscal Year 2011, SSA reported that overpayments to program recipients exceeded $3.7 billion, or about 7.3 percent of all payment dollars, an increase from the prior year.  Agency data also showed that the amount of SSI debt recovered was less than half the amount of new debt detected.

In response to these staggering overpayment statistics, Congressman Paulsen asked GAO to review the major factors associated with SSI overpayments, what actions SSA had taken to address them, and what was known about SSA’s recovery of overpayments from SSI recipients, including those not currently receiving SSI benefits.  GAO reviewed SSI overpayment debt and collection data, a random sample of overpayment cases, and SSA’s overpayment policies and procedures.

The Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources has jurisdiction over the SSI program.