Report Details SSI Overpayments: GAO Official Says Thousands of Recipients Shouldn't Get Checks

By Wetzstein, Cheryl | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 6, 1997 | Go to article overview

Report Details SSI Overpayments: GAO Official Says Thousands of Recipients Shouldn't Get Checks


Wetzstein, Cheryl, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A popular cash welfare program for low-income blind, elderly and disabled persons received a blistering analysis from the government's watchdog agency this week.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program "has been adversely affected by internal control weaknesses, complex policies and insufficient management attention," Jane L. Ross, a top General Accounting Office (GAO) official told a House subcommittee Tuesday.

The problems are "long-standing" and have resulted in $2.3 billion of tax dollars being erroneously paid to recipients in 1996, Ms. Ross said.

The Social Security Administration has recovered only $357 million, or 15 percent, of such overpayments, she added.

"Taxpayers are paying a terrible price for government's wasteful mistakes. That's wrong and it needs to be stopped," said Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight.

A Social Security Administration official said the agency is taking steps to improve its stewardship of the program by setting up a national fraud hot line, assigning more people to investigate abuse, and increasing disability reviews.

SSI, begun in 1974, sends monthly checks to elderly, blind or disabled low-income persons. Last year, $22 billion in SSI benefits were paid to 6.6 million people.

Congress has worked to reform the program: It has ended SSI for prisoners and to persons whose only "disability" is their addiction to drugs and alcohol. The welfare law also tightened disability definitions for children and ended SSI eligibility for legal immigrants.

Ms. Ross said that some SSI recipients or their representatives defrauded the program by:

* Setting up separate living arrangements from spouses to get higher benefits. …

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