Here’s a truly staggering example of government waste and resource mismanagement: According to a new report, Social Security Disability Insurance, run by the Social Security Administration, and tasked with providing benefits to disabled workers, has overpaid to the tune of $11 billion during the past nine years.
The Social Security Administration has at this point given up on recovering $1.4 billion in overpayments, after ruling that the payouts were solely the fault of the agency—not the workers who benefited from them.
That’s fair, but why were these payments given out to begin with?
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), blames poor oversight among the SSA’s employees, who failed to properly monitor the income levels of workers who continue to receive benefits. So, workers who have returned to their jobs and started earning a regular paycheck have continued receiving government dollars long after these payments were supposed to stop.
Evidently, the Disability Insurance program has rules so complex that many employees cannot keep them all straight; there is no computerized income reporting system, and overpayments of up to $1,000 are simply waived.
It is no big surprise, then, that Congress has made overtures to reform the program significantly in the next two years, increasing accountability and improving oversight. One only wonders what took them so long.
Congressional auditors noted that these egregious overpayments “represent an avoidable drain on the nation’s dwindling [disability insurance] trust fund.” Meanwhile, many workers who did their part in accurately reporting their income are still being asked to refund their overpayments, which creates hardships and burdens for them.
What can be done to rescue this program from its mismanagement and fated insolvency? One solution that is routinely floated is the notion of taking funds from the Social Security retirement fund and putting it into Disability Insurance. This is misguided. First, the Social Security Administration itself is set to become insolvent by 2033. Additionally, it seems unfair to take money from a program we’re paying into (and from which we’re promised to get a return) in order to bail out another failing, mismanaged program. The government shouldn’t take its promises, our tax dollars, and our financial futures so lightly.
A better approach is for us to finally realize that we cannot coerce hard-working Americans to join an expensive, wasteful, and poorly managed government program like this one.
At the very least, we can demand greater accountability and transparency with how this program is run. After all, these overpayments are being made with our tax dollars—and we have every right to demand the government to get its accounting together.