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Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Ferguson Opening Statement – Hearing on Improper Payments

October 18, 2023

“We’ve got a lot of work to do on improper payments. That’s what we’re here to discuss today. One thing that I think that we all agree on is that way too many Americans now have the burden of having to deal with an overpayment. And I believe that we have to come together in a way that makes sure that those people are not caused additional harm or suffering. We will get to that conversation. I know, whether you’re Republican, whether you’re Democrat, no matter what district you’re from, the last thing you want to see are your constituents burdened by mistakes that have been made by the Administration. But today is about making sure that we focus in on how to stop the improper payments, under payments or overpayments.

“Social Security is so vitally important to all of us. And there are about 65 million Americans who rely on the Social Security Administration to provide them with timely and accurate benefits each and every month to the roughly 180 million taxpayers who contribute a portion of their paychecks to fund the program. It’s important for them too.

“With a program this size, which pays out more than $1.2 trillion a year, even a small percentage of errors can have a big impact. Every error can affect beneficiaries, livelihood. Let’s all agree that we shouldn’t be going after beneficiaries who receive payments improperly. Let’s focus first on stopping the improper payments. Whether we’re talking about an overpayment, or whether we’re talking about an underpayment, we have to get this right. We have major issues, and we have insolvency coming with Social Security in less than 10 years. It’s something that we all we all share a concern about and are committed to finding a pathway forward in a bipartisan way. We cannot continue to go down the road of turning a blind eye to inefficiencies and improper payments in the administration. So I believe that as we go forward, we can figure out better processes. I think that we can figure out more efficient ways of dealing with this.

“Just to give you an example, the old process took way too long. Now the improved process has a 10-page form that that the beneficiary has to navigate. It’s still really complicated and we’re putting a tremendous burden on the beneficiary, when in fact, there are ways that we can that we can address this and we can be more proactive in dealing with the improper payments. I would like to enter into the record the request waiver for the overpayment recovery. It is not the easiest thing in the world, particularly if we’re talking about someone that might not have the means and the resources around them to hire professionals to help them with this.

“Even when a beneficiary follows the rules, SSA service outages, errors and processing delays can result in the need to contact SSA multiple times. Improper payments, many of which many of which occur by no fault of those who have been improperly paid, do in fact place a heavy burden on the recipients. That’s why we’ve got to do more to help prevent this before they happen. It’s no mystery what’s causing these improper payments. As each of today’s witnesses can tell you, a major driver of overpayments is SSA’s continued reliance on manual processes to report report earnings in a timely manner.

“This is why Congress gave the Social Security Administration new authority to enter into information exchanges with payroll data providers to reduce SSA’s dependence on beneficiary’s self reporting their earnings and to prevent improper payments. This was done eight years ago. Eight years ago. SSA still has not put this authority into use. One of the things that we’re going to want to find out today is why that is.

“Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to the SSA along with Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith and Work and Welfare Chairman Darren LaHood to ask why SSA had taken so long to use this important tool and to press SSA to put it into production as soon as possible. And again, I intend to follow up with questions today to that effect. I also look forward to hearing from the Government Accountability Office and the SSA Office of Inspector General, both both of which have dedicated significant time to analyze in SSA’s payment accuracy and recommending improvements. And while I understand that SSA has made progress on some of them, there’s a lot more that could be done. I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.”