The Senate Finance Committee is increasing oversight of the Social Security overpayment issue and plans to meet with the agency every month „until the problem is resolved.“ An investigation by KFF Health News and Cox Media Group found that Social Security has overpaid billions of dollars to many disabled individuals, then demanded the money back even when it was the government’s mistake. This report sparked sharp criticism in Congress and led to an investigation by the agency.
The Social Security Agency assured lawmakers in the past that the problem had been resolved, but „you all have stated in your reports that the problem has not been resolved,“ said Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in an interview. Wyden referred to an ongoing investigation by the news outlets, reporting that the agency had made overpayments in the billions, money that people should never have received, and then demanded repayment, sometimes years later. „Millions of these people are walking an economic tightrope, balancing their grocery bills with their fuel bills, their fuel bills with their rent bills,“ Wyden said. „And they have one of these overpayments and it hits them like a wrecking ball.“
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill in Congress that would raise asset limits for millions of Social Security recipients for the first time in decades is gaining support. The alleged amounts owed by people to the government often amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Many of the recipients are among the country’s most vulnerable – people with disabilities and minimal savings and income. Often, overpayments are due to errors or omissions by the Social Security Agency. According to a government document obtained by KFF Health News and CMG through a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency sends overpayment notices to more than 2 million people annually, typically requesting repayment to the government within 30 days.
Wyden, who is a co-sponsor of a Senate bill addressing one of the main causes of overpayments, expressed his commitment to resolving the problem. The bill, led by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would raise asset limits under the Supplemental Security Income program, which provides monthly checks to people with little to no income or assets and are over 65 years old or disabled, to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for couples. The bill also has support from several high-ranking officials in major Wall Street companies.
Wyden said he hopes that the legislation will become a campaign issue in the upcoming election year and that candidates will be asked if they support it. The monthly meetings with the Social Security Agency will begin once a new commissioner is in office, said Wyden. The former governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley (D), nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the agency, has been released by the Finance Committee and is awaiting confirmation by the full Senate.
One of the goals of these meetings, according to Wyden, will be to find out if the agency can do more to address overpayments with its existing legal authorities, including the authority to forgive debt. Wyden said he has spoken with White House officials about overpayments and repayment of the Social Security. In the interview, Wyden also commented on a recent KFF Health News and CMG report, according to which the SSA sends overpayment notices to over a million more people every year than the current commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, disclosed at a hearing in the House of Representatives in October. He said that if SSA officials were not telling the truth, it would harm the credibility of this incredibly important program.
Meanwhile, high-ranking Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee issued a statement this week calling for action on overpayments and repayments. „Recent news reports have highlighted that the harm and injustice experienced by Social Security recipients after unknowingly being overpaid are more widespread than previously thought,“ said Reps. John B. Larson and Danny K. Davis. „The urgency for action is clear. There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of the Social Security overpayment process, one that puts seniors and Americans with severe disabilities first.“ While some overpayments result from errors made by the government, others are due to beneficiaries failing to comply with the requirements.
The SSA is highly reliant on beneficiaries reporting changes in income, assets, and similar. For example, the agency has been slow to implement systems that would automatically retrieve payroll data from external sources. Beneficiaries and advocates of Social Security recipients claim that the agency frequently loses information they transmit. It can be extremely difficult to reach people in the agency, and wait times are long, resulting in calls being disconnected. O’Malley, the nominee for commissioner, recently informed the Senate Finance Committee that the agency is experiencing a „customer service crisis.“ The agency has cited staffing and funding as issues.