So­cial Se­cu­rity un­able to give es­ti­mate for dis­abil­ity fraud

Of­fi­cial says met­rics need to be im­proved

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

So­cial Se­cu­rity can’t even give a ball­park es­ti­mate for how much fraud there is in the pro­gram, a top of­fi­cial ad­mit­ted to Congress on Wednesday — though he in­sisted they care about the mat­ter and are work­ing to weed out bo­gus pay­ments, par­tic­u­larly in dis­abil­ity pay­ments.

Sean Brune, assistant deputy com­mis­sioner at the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get of­fice, said they’re try­ing to be­come more aware of the prob­lems and looking for new tools to fight back, but said he couldn’t guess at how bad the prob­lem is.

“I do not have a dol­lar amount of the gen­eral amount of fraud,” Mr. Brune told the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee.

The $150 bil­lion-a-year dis­abil­ity pro­gram has been touched by sev­eral mas­sive fraud rings in re­cent years, in­clud­ing one based in West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky that in­ves­ti­ga­tors say filed more than 1,700 fraud­u­lent ap­pli­ca­tions, which could cost the govern­ment more than $500 mil­lion in bo­gus life­time ben­e­fits.

The govern­ment’s comp­trol­ler gen­eral said So­cial Se­cu­rity needs to pay more at­ten­tion to the prob­lem, and needs to fig­ure out where it’s run­ning the big­gest risks of fraud.

Mr. Brune said the agency is try­ing to get there, looking to cal­cu­late and man­age risks.

“We have some met­rics, we just need to im­prove them,” he said.

Mr. Brune ad­mit­ted that his agency doesn’t have the power to strip fraud­ster em­ploy­ees of their pen­sions — mean­ing a former So­cial Se­cu­rity ad­min­is­tra­tive law judge who stands ac­cused of be­ing part of the Ken­tucky and West Vir­ginia fraud ring will col­lect a govern­ment pen­sion.

“We do not have un­der cur­rent statute au­thor­ity to re­voke his pen­sion,” he said. Still, he said that the former judge is con­victed the court can or­der resti­tu­tion, mean­ing his pen­sion could be gar­nished to cover those costs.

Rep. Tom Rice, a South Carolina Repub­li­can who said the former judge is now liv­ing in his district, asked if Congress should pass a law to can­cel pen­sions of So­cial Se­cu­rity em­ploy­ees who abet fraud.

“We’d be happy to talk to you about that,” Mr. Brune said.

So­cial Se­cu­rity has started a pro­gram where it has loaned lawyers out to fed­eral prose­cu­tors’ of­fices to en­cour­age them to pur­sue fraud cases.

In the first six months of fis­cal year 2017 that pro­gram has won 119 guilty pleas from fraud­sters, winning pledges of more than $10 mil­lion in resti­tu­tion.

Democrats said that while fraud was a prob­lem, the agency needed to make sure it wasn’t can­cel­ing ben­e­fits of those who le­git­i­mately qual­i­fied. They also warned against fur­ther bud­get and staffing cuts at the agency, say­ing the work­load is in­creas­ing with the re­tire­ment of baby boomers.

Nearly 10 mil­lion peo­ple col­lect dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits, and the av­er­age pay­ment is about $1,170 a month, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sta­tis­tics.

The en­roll­ment num­ber has soared over the last two decades, more than dou­bling dur­ing that time. That’s far faster than the growth rate in the pop­u­la­tion, leav­ing some an­a­lysts to sus­pect fraud or other du­bi­ous rea­sons.

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