Social Security Overpayment Problem Could Get Even Bigger

social security overpayment problem could get even bigger

Stock image of U.S. Dollars. The SSA has previously told Newsweek it does not disclose numbers for how many recipients are in debt to the agency.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has sought to collect overpayments from more than a million extra benefit recipients than previously disclosed at a congressional hearing in October.

Significantly more people owe money to the SSA—an issue that previous Newsweek reporting shows is causing significant distress to some of America’s most vulnerable people—according to a document obtained by KFF Health News and the Cox Media Group via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Newsweek has not been able to verify the total number of recipients who have been told they owe money. During the hearing, Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi said: “The number of beneficiaries experiencing an overpayment each year for [fiscal year] FY 2022, 1,028,389. For FY 2023, 989,912.”

KFF Health News and Cox Media said the total figure under all programs is “more than two million.”

During the hearing, Kijakazi, while reading from the same document, allegedly omitted an entire category of beneficiaries outlined in the paper, according to the outlet. The document suggests that the repercussions are significantly broader than Kijakazi acknowledged in response to direct questioning from a House Ways and Means subcommittee responsible for overseeing the federal agency.

During the hearing, Representative Mike Carey, an Ohio Republican, asked Kijakazi how many people had been affected by payback demands.

“Can we quantify the number of individuals affected by these overpayments?” he asked, to which Kijakazi responded with the figures for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, indicating that about 1 million people encountered overpayments each year.

As Carey initiated his reply, Kijakazi interjected to clarify “this is under Social Security.” According to KFF Health News, the document “shows that the numbers Kijakazi gave at the hearing covered only two of the three Social Security benefit programs. They did not cover Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, which provides financial support for people who have little or no income or assets and are blind, otherwise disabled, or at least 65 years old.”

In a statement made to KFF Health News and Cox Media, SSA spokesperson Nicole Tiggemann said the numbers given by Kijakazi—and those left out—are “unverified.”

“We cannot confirm the accuracy of the information, and we have informed the committee,” Tiggemann said. She added that the numbers “were gathered quickly” and that SSA systems “were not designed to easily determine this information.”

The SSA sparked considerable ire in recent months after several investigations found it had demanded billions of dollars back from beneficiaries, including some of the most vulnerable people in America, such as those on low incomes, retirees, widows and disabled people. Overpayments result from the government making a mistake or from beneficiaries failing to comply with requirements, intentionally or otherwise.

The exact number of beneficiaries who owe money to the government is unclear. The SSA previously told Newsweek it does not disclose numbers for how many recipients are in debt to the agency.

Newsweek has reached out to the Social Security Administration via email for comment.

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