On June 3, 2015, the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “Protecting the Safety Net from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse” that addressed the high levels of fraudulent behavior involved in safety net programs that go largely unpunished every year, as well as wasteful spending that results from a lack of proper oversight from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) gave the opening remarks, where he highlighted the billions of taxpayer funds that are wasted in improper payments every year in the Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. In 2014, SSI improperly paid $5.1 billion, while UI improperly paid $5.6 billion.
Chairman Boustany went on to explain how these safety net programs are especially vulnerable to fraud as well as high error rates, since both programs “focus on getting checks out the door before verifying they are going to the right person.” These high error rates and fraud waste billions of taxpayer funds every year and keep those funds from Americans who are truly in need. Furthermore, the panels that were assembled for the hearing made it clear that data systems exist to reduce over payments and prevent the ineligible from collecting these safety net benefits. Boustany closed his remarks with a call to action for bipartisan support to protect these safety net programs from abuse.
Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, was the first to testify. His testimony focused on both H.R. 2359 “The Disability FRAUD Prevention Act of 2015,” as well as H.R. 2504, the “Control Unlawful Fugitive Felon (CUFF) Act of 2015” – two bills that AMAC strongly support. Johnson expressed his current dissatisfaction with the current oversight concerning fugitives receiving SSI payments as well as disability insurance. As Johnson put it, “Americans won’t stand for criminals getting benefits, especially when Social Security will soon lack the money to pay full benefits to law-abiding citizens.” Johnson also expressed his frustration concerning scandals in West Virginia, New York and Puerto Rico where fraudsters stole millions in taxpayer fund – a fact that AMAC members find entirely unacceptable. Johnson’s proposed bills would save $10 billion, of which $6.4 billion would go to Social Security Trust Fund.
Following Representative Sam Johnson, Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady called to attention the fact that some unemployed individuals subsist on SSI payments alone, never attempting to seek gainful employment because of the large unemployment checks they receive each month that pay more than a job would. Furthermore, Brady pointed out that one of the main reasons unemployed individuals are unable to reenter the work force is due to their inability to pass a drug test. Brady moved to make UI programs drug-free environments in order to encourage Americans to earn paychecks instead of picking up unemployment checks. Brady argued that this change would get Americans back in the work force and would free up safety net funds for those who are unable to work, such as the low-income elderly and disabled individuals.
Echoing the sentiments of both Brady and Johnson, Representative Renacci enthusiastically advocated for a bipartisan revival of the American dream and urged members of the Subcommittee to place “progress over politics and work together to end the job-crushing policies that have consumed Washington.” Renacci called for states to make unemployment programs more effective and to become more focused on getting individuals back in the workforce, while leaving safety net benefits to those in genuine need.
The second panel of the hearing was comprised of private as well as public sector workers who are committed to improving the integrity of safety net programs. Patrick O’Carroll, Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, proposed monthly SSI checks by partnering with private databases to determine SSI eligibility, as an individual’s job status is subject to change throughout a calendar year. O’Carroll emphasized the importance of cooperation between the private and public sector, using SSA’s partnership with Equifax as an example of this cooperation. Equifax’s VP of Government Sales Debra Rohlman was also present on the panel and discussed the modern database solution available to prevent fraud and improper payments. While this modernization is not a cheap or instant solution, Dan Bertoni of the Government Accountability Office spoke to the importance that this modernization occurs. O’Carroll also expressed a strong desire for individuals who commit fraud to pay restitutions in order to cut down on the loss of taxpayer funds due to overpayments. Various panel members highlighted the importance of O’Carroll’s suggestions.
Throughout the testimony and question and answer session, there was unified bipartisan agreement that both the SSI and UI programs need structural reformation. Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) expressed his dismay concerning the continued budget cuts and SSA regional office closures since 2010. SSA has lost 500,000 employees, and SSA’s budget today is less than it was in 2010. These changes have led to a loss of vital personnel required for fraud investigations as well as customer services. Over a million people are currently waiting to file for disability, are unable to work, and are not receiving their Social Security checks. These lapses of coverage, overpayments, and fraud cases make it increasingly clear that America’s safety net programs need to change.
AMAC members hope to see this change take place soon through legislation and have supported several bills that seek to protect American taxpayers – especially older Americans. AMAC agrees that Social Security benefits should not be provided to those who are ineligible. Representative Sam Johnson pointed out that while this is not a partisan issue, it is a pressing issue. With the Disability Insurance Trust Fund running out of funds in a little over a year, these reforms are commonsense. AMAC will continue to ensure that Social Security waste, fraud, and abuse remains a top priority for the Ways and Means Committee and that substantive steps are taken to guarantee and preserve these vital safety net programs.