The Social Security Administration might have improperly paid at least $1.29 billion in disability payments from 2010 to 2013, an audit released Friday by the Government Accountability Office found.
The possible overpayments were made to 36,000 individuals who worked too many hours to qualify for disability payments, the audit said. One beneficiary received $90,000 in improper payments. Other cases cited by the GAO ranged from $57,000 to $74,000.
The audit compared data from a new hires database to disability payments made by the agency. The GAO said the amount of improper payments was likely higher, but the true amount could only be determined by examining specific cases.
The GAO said overpayments were made to two types of workers. The first type was found to have worked during a five-month mandatory waiting period for benefits. The second type exceeded allowable earnings during a nine-month period in which a beneficiary is allowed to return to work.
The GAO recommended that the Social Security Administration, “to the extent it is cost-effective and feasible,” create a way to detect cases in which payments are made to individuals earning income that disqualifies them from the disability program.
For its part, the agency told the GAO it was committed to “improving payment accuracy,” although it voiced concerns that the methodology used to conduct the audit yielded inaccurate data.