Administrators of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program are getting more benefits overpayments back these days but have far more overpayments to recover, according to officials at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO looked at the SSDI overpayment recovery efforts because of concerns that the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be paying benefits out to beneficiaries who have returned to work and are no longer eligible for benefits.

The SSA paid $123 billion in benefits to about 10 million workers and dependents in federal fiscal year 2010.

The level of known, cumulative SSDI overpayment debt increased to $5.4 billion in 2010, from $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2001.

SSDI debt collections increased to $839 million, from $340 million, over that same period, Daniel Bertoni, a GAO director, writes in a letter summarizing the GAO’s findings.

GAO investigators looked at case files for 60 SSDI beneficiaries who had received overpayments. Amounts ranged from $1,126 to $53,436, with a median of $16,917 per individual, Bertoni says.

The GAO is recommending that the SSA address the overpayment recovery problem in part by updating a computer system to get more accurate records of debt owed to SSA, and also by trying to get more timely beneficiary earnings information.

“To identify unreported work and earnings, SSA primarily relies on data matching with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), then sends these matches to staff,” Bertoni says. “However, the IRS data may be more than a year old when received by SSA, and SSA says it is not cost-effective to gain access to and use other sources of earnings information, such as the National Directory of New Hires database.”

- Allison Bell

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