Social Security Overpays Billions Under Leadership of Racial Equity Activist
Under the leadership of a noted racial equity activist the Social Security Administration (SSA) has mistakenly overpaid beneficiaries tens of billions of dollars, including a 65% spike in overpayments in one year. In 2023 the agency with a stated mission of ensuring equity and accessibility by addressing systemic barriers to participation and a commitment to providing services to underserved communities made a whopping $23 billion in overpayments, according to its latest Agency Financial Report. The figure is a marked increase over the already stunning $11.1 billion in overpayments that SSA erroneously made in 2022.
SSA’s dreadful habit of overpaying billions in benefits goes back years as American taxpayers get stuck with the hefty price because most of the money is never recovered. In the last few years, the agency has doled out between $6 billion and $7 billion in new overpayments annually, the new report reveals. It shows that most of the 2022 overpayments, around $6.5 billion, occurred within the Old-Age Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs which provide monthly benefits to qualified retired and disabled workers and their dependents and to survivors of insured workers. Eligibility and benefit amounts are determined by the worker’s contributions to Social Security. In prior years the problem was mainly in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program which helps low-income elderly and disabled adults as well as children. In 2022 SSI distributed north of $4.6 billion in overpayments.
At a congressional hearing earlier this year SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi told federal lawmakers that her agency is trying to recover the money by sending out millions of “overpayment notices” to those who erroneously got extra cash. Kijakazi said 1,028,389 people got the notices in 2022 and 986,912 in fiscal 2023, which ended in September. Kijakazi is a renowned racial equity proponent with a storied career of researching—and tackling—structural racism and the racial wealth gap in both government and high-profile nonprofits. She has served as co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Eliminating the Black-White Wealth Gap at the leftist Center for American Progress and on the Washington, D.C. Equitable Recovery Advisory Group. In mid-2021 President Joe Biden named Kijakazi acting SSA Commissioner after previously appointing her to a lower-level position of deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy.
In the new agency financial report Kijakazi reveals that in 2023 she began to rebuild the SSA workforce by adding nearly 4,000 employees, yet problems persist. “We made progress toward eliminating our hearings backlog,” the commissioner writes in the report’s opening message, adding that “we ended FY 2023 with 321,819 cases pending, the lowest level since 2000.” The commissioner proceeds to highlight all the great things her agency has accomplished, including working to eliminate a backlog, reducing wait times for claims and improving organizational efficiency. “As good stewards of our programs, we strive to reduce improper payments and combat waste, fraud and abuse through our quality reviews, cost-effective program integrity work, and payment accuracy efforts.” Kijakazi ends her opening message by writing that there are “no material weaknesses in our internal controls.”
Nevertheless, buried deep in the exhaustive 216-page report the agency discloses the billions it has overpaid in the last few years despite establishing a special Improper Payment Prevention Team in 2019 tasked with developing strategies to determine the underlying cause of payment errors and developing corrective action plans. SSA issues over $1 trillion in benefit payments annually and preventing overpayments can be as simple as providing employees with a “comprehensive tool” when calculating benefits manually. In fact, SSA found that it could have avoided approximately 73,000 overpayments totaling more than $368 million in 2022 if it had furnished a “comprehensive tool” for employees to do their job correctly. “Preventing improper payments is more advantageous than recovering them after they are made because SSA does not have to expend additional resources to recover the overpayments…” the report states.