WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s a problem impacting Social Security beneficiaries around the country: they’re getting notices saying they owe the government money, often because of the government’s own mistake.
We’ve told you how our investigation across our sister stations in collaboration with KFF Health News exposed billions of dollars in overpayments and efforts by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to claw the money back.
On Thursday, members of a key Senate committee questioned the nominee to lead the Social Security Administration, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, about this problem.
“Let’s talk about reducing overpayments,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). “If you don’t get that right, you’ve got people you’re serving walking on an economic tight rope.”
“The agency has additional tools to prevent improper payments before they occur and the agency should use them,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).
Senator after Senator pressed O’Malley about their concerns.
“I am deeply concerned about the burden placed on individuals when the Social Security Administration works to recoup payments that the agency made because of its own errors,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire). “If confirmed, will you commit Governor to continuing efforts to minimize the agency errors that lead to the problems for beneficiaries?”
“I will certainly commit to that, Senator,” O’Malley responded.
In his remarks, O’Malley acknowledged changes need to be made to ensure beneficiaries are getting the benefits they have earned.
“Today for all of its historic strengths, we must acknowledge that Social Security faces a customer service crisis,” said O’Malley.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) raised concerns about COVID-19 payments wrongfully impacting Social Security beneficiaries.
“These are situations where someone received a COVID-19 payment and therefore had their SSI benefits reduced,” Casey told our Washington News Bureau. “We need to correct that.”
Senators questioned O’Malley about why Social Security overpayments are happening in the first place.
“Am I correct in understanding this outdated asset limit is in fact the leading cause of overpayments?” asked Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Social Security.
“It’s a leading cause and it’s a huge administrative burden,” replied O’Malley.
The asset limit applies to people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
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Currently, individuals are limited to saving no more than $2,000 in their bank accounts or else they will lose their benefits.
Married couples are currently limited to saving no more than $3,000.
Brown has introduced a bipartisan measure to raise the asset limit to $10,000 for individuals receiving SSI and $20,000 for married couples.
“This is a really big deal,” Brown told our Washington News Bureau. “This is going to stop the problem of overpayments. It’s a bipartisan bicameral bill. It will make a whole lot of people who are living on disability… it’ll mean their lives will be a whole lot better.”
This comes after members of a House subcommittee held a hearing last month about the problem of overpayments and cited our reporting while questioning the Acting Commissioner about the issue.
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