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Social Security Overpayments: Another Reason for Financial Problems

The Audit Report of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Social Security Administration (SSA) on September, 2015 addressed the issue of pending overpayment collections.

Overpayments occur when SSA improperly pays recipients too much money as a result of errors. Once recognized, these overpayments become debts owed to the government by the improperly paid recipients. At this time, SSA has failed to resolve over $172M in long term pending, collectible, overpayments and was criticized for its poor efforts in this regard.

The procedure required for overpayment collection includes a notice to the beneficiary of overpayment collection. Thereafter, the beneficiary has the right to protest the determination or requests a waiver of the overpayment. Should this request or waiver be denied, the beneficiary has the right to request reconsideration of the overpayment followed by a hearing, if necessary.

Unfortunately, following a denial of the request for waiver or the protest, the government can pursue collection of the overpayment although the matter remains on appeal as part of reconsideration and hearing which can take longer than two years to complete.

Overpayment collection by SSA can be accomplished via several routes:

  • Full collection of the overpayment
  • Withholding of all or part of the monthly benefit to repay the overpayment
  • Decreasing the amount paid to an overpaid individual from another SSA-administered program
  • When the overpaid person is no longer receiving current benefits, SSA may adjust the benefit paid to an individual receiving benefits on the overpaid person’s SSA record
  • Where no benefits offsets are possible, monthly installment payments may be required
  • Recover of overpayments through the Treasury Offset Program which can offset any Federal or State governmental payment
  • Credit reporting of delinquent persons not repaying overpayments

OIG has criticized SSA for failing to timely resolve protests or waiver requests which, if not undertaken, prevent overpayment recovery efforts. The known apparent problem is that the longer SSA takes to undertake collection of the overpayment, the less likely recovery will be. Further, OIG faulted SSA for failing to monitor and fully recover overpayments from other sources.

Surprisingly, SSA agreed with OIG without making further comment, agreeing to undertake recommended reforms in addressing the overpayment resolution problems.

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