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Senators Highlight GAO Report Detailing Improper Social Security Disability Insurance Payments

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Today, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) highlighted the report from the Government Accountability Office ("GAO") entitled, "Disability Insurance: Work Activity Indicates Certain Social Security Disability Insurance Payments Were Potentially Improper." In the report, GAO identified 36,000 individuals who received $1.29 billion in potential disability overpayments at the same time they were earning wages posted to the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH).

"Today's Government Accountability Office report identified an important opportunity to save millions of taxpayer dollars in this Social Security Administration's vital disability program," said Chairman Carper. "The report lays out clear, common-sense steps that the agency can and should take in order to avoid improper payments. However, if we're serious about preventing waste and fraud and ensuring that these critical benefits get to the people who need and deserve them, Congress must also do its part and provide needed resources and access to basic anti-fraud data to the Social Security Administration."

"Today's report demonstrates just how little importance the Social Security Administration places on policing its disability rolls," said Dr. Coburn. "SSA has known for years that it could prevent millions of dollars in improper disability payments using quarterly wage records, but chose not to. With estimates showing the disability trust fund will be unable to pay full benefits as early as 2015, it is time for SSA to take action to protect the program for those who are truly unable to work because of a disability."

"Disability benefits need to go to the truly disabled," said Senator Levin, "and better oversight of benefit recipients, including by reviewing their wage records, is critical to preventing waste, fraud and abuse. It would be shortsighted for Congress to reduce the funding needed to conduct that type of oversight to strengthen federal disability programs. It is also important, of course, not to put so much pressure on disabled workers who receive a paycheck that it would discourage program participants from seeking work that could enable them to get off the disability roles."

Currently, the agency does not compare the SSDI rolls to the NDNH database of wage information, which is updated quarterly with wage information through the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Commonly referred to as the "deadbeat dad" database, the NDNH is primarily used to help states track down parents delinquent in child support obligations. If an individual has wages listed in the NDNH, it is potential evidence they are working, which could disqualify them for disability benefits. The report found these 36,000 individuals posted wages during periods that would potentially disqualify the beneficiary from receiving benefits if they were working.

GAO's findings are in direct contention with SSA's prior assertion it would not be cost-effective to use quarterly wage information to screen for work activity among disability recipients. At an August 4, 2010 hearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, SSA asserted the comparison performed by GAO was not cost effective stating using the NDNH "would generate a relatively large number of alerts and the return on investment would only be about $1.40 for every dollar spent."[1] The agency estimated the cost of the reviewing the "additional alerts would be about $17 million."

At the end of 2012, more than 10.89 million Americans received $136.9 billion in monetary benefits from the Social Security Disability Insurance.

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