Supplemental Security Income: SSA Faces Ongoing Challenges With Work Incentives And Improper Payments – Community News
Social Security

Supplemental Security Income: SSA Faces Ongoing Challenges With Work Incentives And Improper Payments

What GAO thought

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has made several efforts to encourage employment for individuals with disabilities receiving supplemental income (SSI) who would like to work, but few take advantage of this support.

  • Work incentives and support for young people in the transitional age. SSA administers work incentives and other employment support for youth of transition age (14 to 17 years) on SSI. These supports encourage employment by enabling these young people to keep at least part of their benefits, even if they have an income. In 2017, a GAO analysis of SSA data from 2012 to 2015 found that less than 1.5 percent of SSI youth benefited from these incentives. According to SSA and other officials, this may be because SSI youth and their families are often unaware of or do not understand the incentives, and may fear that work will negatively impact their benefits or eligibility.
  • Work incentives for adults of working age. The Ticket to Work and Self-sufficiency Program (Ticket) is a voluntary program designed to help persons with disabilities find and keep work and reduce dependence on benefits. Ticket’s preliminary GAO analysis indicates that SSI recipients participated more often than other individuals with disabilities, and modestly benefited from the program. GAO’s analysis of SSA data from 2002 to 2015 found that, 5 years after participating in Ticket, approximately 4 percent of SSI participants had left the disability list due to employment income, compared with 2 percent of non-participants who had similar benefits. were in characteristics such as age, disability type and education. However, revenues for SSI Ticket participants remained low. GAO’s analysis of data from 2002 to 2018 shows that the average earnings for SSI Ticket participants, 5 years after participating, was $3,940 per year, including 57 percent who reported no earnings at all. GAO’s preliminary work also indicates that Ticket participants face a number of challenges to return to work, including their primary disability condition, which may not improve enough to allow for full-time employment, and barriers to employment, such as the loss of money and medical benefits.

Prior and ongoing GAO work has identified issues with SSA’s efforts to reduce improper payments, including overpayments, to SSI beneficiaries in general and beneficiaries who work in particular. Overpayments can occur when beneficiaries who work fail to report their earnings to SSA in a timely manner or SSA delays in adjusting their benefit amounts. SSA reported that SSI’s overpayment rate in fiscal 2019 was estimated at 8.13 percent, higher than other SSA programs. Furthermore, SSA reported that it had paid approximately $4.6 billion in overpaid SSI in fiscal 2019. Overpayments may have to be refunded, which can be inconvenient for recipients, especially those who were unaware that they had overpaid and had already spent the money. While SSA has taken steps to reduce overpayments, SSA’s Office of Inspector General found that SSA had failed to address delays in updating information about beneficiaries’ earnings. In addition, SSA has not implemented a GAO priority recommendation for 2020 to develop and implement a process to measure the effectiveness of its corrective actions for improper payments, including overpayments.

Why GAO Did This Study?

SSI is a federal aid program operated by SSA that provides benefits to certain individuals who are elderly, blind, or have disabilities. SSI acts as a safety net for individuals with limited resources and little or no other income. As such, SSI is an income based program. As of July 2021, approximately 71 percent of SSI beneficiaries were children or working-age persons with disabilities. SSA faces long-standing challenges in administering SSI and the other disability programs. GAO has released multiple reports with recommendations on how SSA might address these challenges.

This testimonial describes SSA’s challenges in (1) promoting employment for SSI recipients who want to work, and (2) preventing inappropriate payments to SSI recipients, including overpayments.

This statement is based primarily on previous GAO reports issued between 2010 and 2021, as well as preliminary observations from an ongoing GAO review of the Ticket program. To perform the work for these reports and the ongoing review, GAO used a variety of methods, including analyzing data; reviewing relevant federal laws, regulations and guidelines; reviewing key agency documents, such as SSA’s strategic plan and annual SSI stewardship reports; and interviewing experts and SSA officials.

For more information, contact Elizabeth H. Curda at (202) 512-7215 or [email protected]