Improper disability payments found

The Government Accountability Office has come out with another of its reports and this one has news that all employers will want to be aware of:

Just as a lot of us suspected, GAO says it found that the Social Security Administration made $1.3 billion in potentially improper disability payments to people who had jobs when they were supposed to be unable to work.

Investigators estimated that 36,000 workers got improper payments from December 2010 to January 2013.

The numbers represent less than 1 percent of beneficiaries and less than 1 percent of disability payments made during the time frame. But GAO said the overpayments reveal weaknesses in Social Security’s procedures for policing the system.

For its part, the Social Security Administration said its accuracy rate for disability payments is more than 99 percent. But the agency acknowledges that even small errors translate into big numbers.

“We are planning to do an investigation, and we will recoup any improper payments from beneficiaries,” Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle told news reporters. “It is too soon to tell what caused these overpayments, but if we determine that fraud is involved, we will refer these cases to our office of the inspector general for investigation.”

More than 8.2 million disabled workers received disability payments in December 2010, a figure that has grown to nearly 9 million. Last year, the agency paid out $137 billion in disability payments.

Before people can receive disability benefits, there is a 5-month waiting period in which they can, in general, earn no more than about $1,000 a month. The waiting period is to ensure that beneficiaries have long-term disabilities.

Investigators found that most of the improper payments went to people who worked during the five months they waited for payments to begin.

As many employers know, Social Security’s disability program is facing a financial crisis. If Congress doesn’t act, the trust fund that supports the disability program will run out of money in 2016, according to projections by Social Security’s trustees. At that point, the system will collect only enough money in payroll taxes to pay 80 percent of benefits, triggering an automatic 20 percent cut in benefits.

About the Author


Lon Matejczyk

Lon is the former publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal and Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group.He has served in leadership roles at various newspapers in Iowa, Florida and Wisconsin. Lon received his Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire and attended the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Earlier in his career, Lon spent several years as a sea captain and held a 100-ton Coast Guard license. Lon is a former rugby player, referee and administrator and now coaches under 13 year old kids. Lon has served on the boards of numerous community and business organizations including Colorado Springs Leadership Institute, Peak Venture Group, CS Quality of Life Indicators Business Index Committee, Junior Achievement and is a member of The Colorado Thirty Group.  Lon was given the “Making the Pikes Peak region a better place to live work and play” award by the CS Chamber of Commerce, was the VFW Post 1’s business citizen of the year.