25 Investigates

Social Security reviewing overpayment policies, procedures following 25 Investigates reports

The Social Security Administration announced Wednesday that the agency will conduct a review of its overpayment procedures and policies to make sure people are receiving the right amount in benefits and to safeguard the integrity of the program.

The move comes just weeks after a Boston 25 News investigation revealed more than $21 billion in social security overpayments being made to people here in Massachusetts and across the country.

We partnered with our sister stations in eight cities across seven states, and KFF Health News, to show the impact the demands for repayment were having on the recipients, many of whom were poor, elderly, or disabled. The overpayments were often in the thousands of tens of thousands of dollars and were sometimes the result of the government’s own mistakes.

“Despite our high accuracy rates, I am putting together a team to review our overpayment policies and procedures to further improve how we serve our customers,” said Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. “I have designated a senior official to work out of the Office of the Commissioner to lead the team and report directly to me.”

Following our reporting, several members of Congress have called for action from the Social Security Administration.

“The government’s got to fix this,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who chairs a Senate panel that oversees Social Security. “It’s a management problem, and people there should be held accountable.”

Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a member of the Committee on Aging, questioned how the volume of overpayments was allowed to grow to more than $20 billion. “Is somebody going to be held accountable at the federal level for, you know, messing this up?”

Representative Mike Carey of Ohio, the No. 2 Republican on a House panel that oversees Social Security, called for a congressional hearing on the subject.

“We need to have a hearing,” he said. “The general sense from members is…we do have a problem, we’ve got to address it, we’ve got to fix it,” he added.

The AARP and a union leader for SSA employees echoed that sentiment.

The agency has, thus far, refused to disclose how many Americans have been impacted by these overpayments.

The Social Security Administration has not offered any specifics on what the review will entail or a timeline for when it will be completed.

SSA has declined our prior requests for an interview with the acting commissioner and has not responded to a new request to discuss her ordering of this review.

In a news release announcing the review, the agency said when overpayments do happen, the agency is required by law to adjust benefits or recover debts. The law allows Social Security to waive recovery in some cases, which must be balanced with the agency’s stewardship responsibility to safeguard the integrity of benefit programs and the trust funds.

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