Billions of tax dollars are potentially being awarded improperly through America’s disability program administered by the Social Security Administration. That’s the conclusion of a Congressional report out this week from the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.
The program can ill-afford waste. The Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund, intended to pay legitimately disabled Americans who are completely unable to work, is so overwhelmed that it’s on track to go bankrupt by 2016. According to the report, that would prompt automatic 19 percent benefit cuts to those suffering true disabilities.
The U.S. disability program has become more stretched as record numbers of Americans are declared to be “disabled” and therefore eligible for tax payments. Administrative law judges awarded 3.2 million people benefits between 2005 and 2013. The average award amounts to about $300,000 over the beneficiaries’ life.
The report, titled Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quantity in the Disability Determination Process, finds: [quote]Some administrative law judges are allowed to remain at the job “even when they demonstrate gross incompetence or negligence in handling their responsibilities.”[/quote]
Part of the reason may be the pressure judges receive from government officials at the Social Security Administration, according to the report. It says the judges are subjected to “considerable pressure” to decide an arbitrarily selected high number of cases each year.
- Administrative law judge disability hearing offices that do not meet disposition targets are subjected to “bad office” conference calls.
- Underperformers may find their teleworking privileges threatened.
Source: House Oversight Committee report[/box]
Oversight committee staff found “numerous deficiencies” among 48 “focused reviews” of selected judges.
The Social Security Administration had already come under fire in an Inspector’s General (IG) report released last month. But officials from the Social Security Administration say the agency is on a path to fixing its problems. Among other measures, it has implemented new ways to oversee disability judges. As a result, the number of problem judges is said to be on the decline.
Other findings by the IG included:
- Over a seven year period, an estimated 24,900 cases were improperly granted disability benefits by 44 disability judges who were examined.
- Deficiencies or "issues" were identified in over three-fourths of the reviewed disability awards issued by the 44 disability judges examined. More than 4 in 10 of these were not supported by the evidence.