The Social Security Administration said Wednesday it would review its overpayment procedures and policies, and may claw back any overpayments found.
During the 2022 fiscal year, the agency recovered $4.7 billion of overpayments, according to a report by the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General.
While payment accuracy rates are high, overpayments do happen given the number of people the agency serves, the number of changes in their circumstances and the complexity of the programs, the SSA said.
“Despite our high accuracy rates, I am putting together a team to review our overpayment policies and procedures to further improve how we serve our customers,” said Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of Social Security.
“There is misinformation in the media claiming that the Social Security Administration is attempting to collect $21 billion. This figure was derived from the total amount of overpayments that have occurred over the history of the programs,” the SSA said in a statement.
The announcement comes the week before Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, is expected to be released.
The 2024 COLA for Social Security is expected to rise about 3.2%, according to estimates from the Senior Citizens League, a pro-senior think tank. That’s compared with an 8.7% increase for 2023, which was the highest COLA in more than 40 years amid high inflation.
Social Security is an important benefit for most Americans. Half of the population age 65 or older live in households that receive at least 50% of their family income from Social Security benefits, according to SSA data, and about 25% of senior households rely on Social Security benefits for at least 90% of their income.
“The government’s got to fix this,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who chairs a Senate panel that oversees Social Security, recently told KFF Health News on the subject of overpayments. Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Carey of Ohio, the No. 2 Republican on a House panel that oversees Social Security, has called for a congressional hearing to review the problem, according to the KFF Health News report.
Social Security pays $1.4 trillion in benefits to more than 71 million people each year. Only around 0.5% of Social Security payments are overpayments, the SSA said.
“For the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, overpayments also represent a small percentage of payments — about 8% — but are higher due to the complexity in administering statutory income and resource limits and asset evaluations,” the agency said in the announcement.
If a person doesn’t agree that they’ve been overpaid, or believes the amount is incorrect, they can appeal. If they believe they shouldn’t have to pay the money back, they can request that the agency waive collection of the overpayment. There’s no time limit for filing a waiver.
The SSA said it is required by law to adjust benefits or recover debts when overpayments occur. The law allows Social Security to waive recovery in some cases.