NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Social Security Overpaid Billions in 2009

June 16, 2011

The Social Security Administration made $6.5 billion in overpayments to people not entitled to receive them in 2009, including $4 billion under a supplemental income program for the very poor, a government investigator said Tuesday, reports Time Magazine.

  • In all, about 10 percent of the payments made under the agency's Supplemental Security Income program were improper, says Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr., the Social Security inspector general.
  • Error rates were much smaller for retirement, survivor and disability benefits, which make up the overwhelming majority of Social Security payments.
  • Throughout the federal government, improper payments totaled $125 billion last year, up from $110 billion in 2009.
  • In 2009, only two other agencies -- the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Labor -- had more improper payments than Social Security.

Social Security has improved the accuracy of its payments in each of the past three years and is working on more improvements, says Carolyn W. Colvin, the agency's deputy commissioner.

  • In all, the agency made $660 billion in retirement, survivors and disability payments in 2009, including an estimated $2.5 billion in overpayments and $600 million in underpayments, says O'Carroll.
  • Colvin says policing the Supplemental Security Income program is more difficult because benefits can change each month based on changes in income and living arrangements.
  • In 2009, the Supplemental Security Income program made payments totaling $48.3 billion, including an estimated $4 billion in overpayments and $800 million in underpayments.

Source: Stephen Ohlemacher, "Social Security Overpaid $6.9B in 2009," Time Magazine, June 14, 2011.


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