To the tune of $6.5 billion, the Social Security Administration has been shelling out payments to individuals "not entitled to receive money" or receiving more than "they should have," according to a government investigator. How did the chosen few manage to score the undeserved pay dirt? It appears they fudged their numbers. "Most of the overpayments went to people who did not report all their resources," said Patrick O'Carroll, the inspector general for Social Security. The AP's Stephen Ohlemacher says the payment mishaps occurred in 2009. That year, $6.5 billion in overpayments occurred "including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor ... Social Security also made nearly $1.5 billion in underpayments, raising the total amount of improper payments to $8 billion."
According to the report, Republicans are making a bigger deal out of this than Democrats.
"By any standard, the scope of these problems is considerable," said Representative Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee. "Regardless of whether a payment occurs because of simple error or outright fraud, improper payments harm Social Security programs in the long term, jeopardizing benefits for those who may need them in the future. They also cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year."
Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat and member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, shot back. "My colleagues seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room--you get what you pay for," he said. "Today's hearing should really be about examining the reckless and indiscriminate cuts imposed on Social Security's operations which, the evidence shows, could lead to less precision and efficiency in processing claims and benefits for seniors and the disabled."
Meanwhile, Social Security wants a little recognition for its honesty. "We pay nearly 60 million Americans who deserve to receive their benefits timely and accurately, and we deliver on that responsibility in nearly all cases," Carolyn W. Colvin, the agency's deputy commissioner, said. "We are committed to minimizing improper payments and protecting program dollars from waste, fraud and abuse. In keeping with President Obama's vision, we are also open and transparent about our improper payment situation and our efforts to improve that situation."
Correction: The original headline of this post cited $8 billion in payments to the wrong people. The figure $8 billion is only correct when adding the total amount of improper payments, not simply payments to the wrong people.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.