Good News: Social Security Beneficiaries Overpaid By $17 Billion

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jun 07, 2015 9:00 PM
Good News: Social Security Beneficiaries Overpaid By $17 Billion

I present to you great moments in government: The Social Security Edition (via The Hill):

The Social Security Administration overpaid nearly half of the people receiving disability benefits over a 10-year period, according to a new report by the agency’s inspector general.

Social Security overpaid beneficiaries by nearly $17 billion, the report estimated, between October 2003 and February 2014.

The agency was able to recover about $8.1 billion of it, the report said.

Many of the payments were delivered to people who either were no longer disabled or to earned too much money to qualify. Some payments went to people who were in prison or had died.

The inspector general followed a randomly selected sample of 1,532 over that 10-year period who either received disability benefits or supplemental security income for the poor.

Auditors found that 45 percent of the beneficiaries were overpaid at some point during the decade by $2.9 million. Based on that result, the inspector general estimated Social Security overpaid $16.8 million from 2003 to 2014.

The report comes just a year before the Social Security Disability Trust Fund is projected to be exhausted, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are divided over how to handle the shortfall. If Congress fails to act, beneficiaries would receive a nearly 20 percent cut in benefits.

Social Security’s reputation as being the third rail in American politics is killing taxpayers. No one from either side is willing to tackle this aspect of the welfare state. Republicans talk about the need to raise the retirement age, but the discussion goes nowhere. There is no action. 

Wait, that’s not quite fair. George W. bush tried in 2005–and failed. With Democrats, it’s the threat of nuclear war if any suggestion about raising the retirement age is brought before Congress, and their allies that want to maintain the unsustainable welfare state would have a field day picking off candidates who support such measures to reform Social Security in their respective re-election campaigns. We all know it’s a vicious cycle. The fear of being primaried, being labeled anti-old people, or worse; having ads (like in 2012) produced showing you pushing some old person in a wheelchair off a cliff.

Regardless, this fear of tackling Social Security is going to happen. And, as it appears, it’s occurring when the system can no longer support seniors, forcing the very cuts liberals disdain.

As George Will noted, these fixes should have been evident as our society made advances in pharmacology. When Social Security was instituted during the Roosevelt administration, the average time between retirement and death was two years; that’s increased by two decades thanks to modern medicine. Nothing wrong with that; I’m glad that my parents will be living longer than in previous generations upon retirement age, but it’s also incredibly expensive. The safety net aimed at supporting American retirees is breaking, especially when every day for the next two decades 10,000 baby boomers become eligible for their respective state’s Social Security and Medicare rolls. The very elderly–those aged 85 and older–are the fastest growing age cohort in the country.

Can we have this Social Security discussion please?