Authored by Jack Phillips via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
A bevy of recent reports has indicated that some Americans are receiving demands from the Social Security Administration to repay the agency after they were overpaid on their benefits.
According to those published reports, the issue tends to arise when the agency overpays people who are receiving workers' compensation payments. A recent Social Security Administration inspector general's report (pdf) found that the administration collected about $4.7 billion in repayments in 2022, while about $22 billion remains outstanding.
For example, an Ohio nursing home worker told KFF News in a recent article that she has multiple health problems, including an artificial heart and cerebral palsy, and was getting about $862 a month and receiving about $1,065 in monthly Social Security disability benefits when she received a letter from the SSA saying she was being overpaid. What's more, the agency said that it wanted the money back and told her to mail a check with the money in 30 days for about $60,000.
A Texas woman who spoke to Fox4 TV on Thursday said she received a similar demand from the SSA, saying she was overpaid and wanted the money back. The letter, according to the woman, wanted her to pay about $41,000, although she said an employee admitted to her that a mistake was made.
"She called me and told me, 'Yeah, I made the mistake. I'm human,'" Danielle Prisock told Fox4. "I'm human as well, I said, and I didn't make the mistake."
The Social Security Administration makes payments for a variety of reasons. Benefits are paid based on one's earnings record if they are aged 62 or older or if one has a disability or enough work credits.
The Epoch Times has not received an SSA comment yet on these reports, but a spokesperson for the agency told multiple local news outlets that it handles overpayments on a case-by-case basis.
"Social Security is required by law to adjust benefits or recover debts when we establish that someone received payments to which they are not entitled and an overpayment occurs. We must maintain our responsibilities to taxpayers to be good stewards of the trust funds," the agency spokesperson told the outlet.
Adding that fewer than 0.5 percent of Social Security payments are overpayments, the spokesperson said that "each person's situation is unique, and we handle overpayments on a case-by-case basis."
"Overpayments can occur for many reasons, such as when a beneficiary does not timely report work or other changes that can affect their benefits," the SSA spokesperson added. "We continually strive to improve stewardship of our programs and reduce improper payments. While staffing losses and resource constraints have challenged our service delivery, our payment accuracy rates remain very high."
What the IG Report Found
In late 2022, the SSA's inspector general report said that overpayments or underpayments can occur when the SSA makes "mistakes in computing" or "fails to obtain or act on available information" about the recipient.
It found that a number of SSA workers "incorrectly input student information on beneficiaries’ records, which resulted in SSA underpaying an estimated 14,470 beneficiaries approximately $59.5 million" in 2022.
And, according to the IG report, it estimated the SSA "could have avoided approximately 73,000 overpayments totaling more than $368 million if it had effective controls over benefit-computation accuracy."
But Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, suggested that the problem is worse than being reported.
"We have an overpayment crisis on our hands," she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month. “Overpayments push already struggling beneficiaries even deeper into poverty and hardship, which is directly counterproductive to the goals of safety-net programs."
Jack Smalligan of the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, told the outlet that most people who are getting overpayments are likely on disability and can't afford to repay the agency. Some overpayments can also result from an error on the beneficiary's part, he said.
Payment Increases Soon?
As for general Social Security payments, one seniors group estimated that the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will go into effect in January 2024.
The Social Security Administration is expected to announce the COLA for 2024’s benefits sometime in October, with the increased payments coming next January. The agency uses the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that measures inflation during the months of July, August, and September before making its decision.
The Senior Citizens League said last week that the likely Social Security COLA will be 3.2 percent for benefit payments in 2024. That would average out to about a $57 increase in extra benefits, raising them to about $1,790 for the average recipient, it estimated in a press release.
The 3.2 percent COLA is far lower than the 8.7 percent that was received for 2023’s payments, which was the highest increase in about four decades, according to the group. However, the estimated 2024 COLA would be higher than the 2.6 percent average over the past 20 years, it said.
“Inflation was so severe in 2021 and 2022 that the average Social Security benefit fell behind by $1,054, leaving 53 percent of retirees doubting they will recover because household costs rose more than the dollar amount of their COLAs,” Mary Johnson, with the league, told media outlets last week.