Auditors: Social Security may have overpaid disability claims by $1.3 billion

The Social Security Administration issued about $1.3 billion in potentially faulty disability payments to people who held jobs while claiming they were unable to work, according to a report last week from congressional investigators.

(Patrick Semansky/AP) (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Government Accountability Office estimated that Social Security may have made improper payments to about 36,000 people, based on a review of six beneficiaries between December 2010 and January 2013.

The figures represent less than one percent of disability payments and one percent of recipients during the audit period, but they demonstrate problems with internal controls, the report said.

“During a time of growing concerns about the solvency of the [disability insurance] trust fund, it is important that SSA take every opportunity to ensure that only eligible beneficiaries receive payments under this program,” the report said.

To get disability payments, beneficiaries must show that they have earned no more than $1,000 per month for five months. The rule is meant to ensure that their conditions are long-term.

One of the overpayments discovered by investigators amounted to $74,000, according to the report.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said in a statement last week that the analysis “demonstrates just how little importance the Social Security Administration places on policing its disability rolls.”

Democrats expressed concern about the findings but insisted that Congress must provide adequate funding to combat improper payments.

“It would be shortsighted for Congress to reduce the funding needed to conduct that type of oversight to strengthen federal disability programs,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), also a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed or e-mail  josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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Josh Hicks · September 17, 2013