"The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Government or SSA."
The July 16 LA Times article -- He Wants No Good Deed to Go Unpaid -- quotes me as follows:
"When I bring up new groups of severely underpaid — and in some cases severely overpaid — beneficiaries, they ignore or dismiss my information. I have definitely been frozen out."
Indeed I have a list of “groups of severely overpaid” beneficiaries, each a multi-million dollar group, that SSA is ignoring. But for the present I wish to elaborate a bit on the two underpaid groups specifically referred to in the article.
The last few lines of the LA Times article state:
And Cooley is busy uncovering other cases of alleged injustice. For instance, he said, he has found 11,034 elderly and disabled widows and widowers who have been underpaid $120 million in pension benefits.
"We've been trying for over a year just to get the agency to recognize that one," he said, "and 1,372 of them have died in the meantime."
Allow me to describe that situation just a bit further. In 2004, we identified 11,034 disabled widows and widowers (97% are women), all over age 65, who are owed $120 million in back pay -- an average of about $10,900 each, from a minimum of a few dollars to a maximum of about $50,000. They are also owed an ongoing additional benefit averaging $103 monthly.
Unlike the Special Disability Workload group described at length in the article, for which resolution of the underpayments involves “mind numbingly complex” policy (and medical) issues, this group’s underpayments are simply the result of miscalculation at the time the individuals turned age 65. Whether by omission or commission, SSA did not calculate the benefit correctly. Correcting the benefits requires no more than a relatively simple recalculation. But so far, SSA has refused to do it. I have notified numerous top officials, including SSA’s Commissioner, to no avail.
A simple review of these individuals’ benefit levels (and that of their deceased spouses) shows that this group is far from affluent. The vast majority are struggling to get by. They need every penny to which they are entitled. Further, they are dying -- about 1,400 have died so far since the identification. Eventually SSA will be forced to pay the benefits, but how much of the money will go to estates -- rather than to the individuals who should get it?
One would think Commissioner Barnhart would order the correction of this problem. See her 2002 testimony: http://www.ssa.gov/legislation/testimony_022802.html.
At any rate, I am going to keep pressing to get these underpayments corrected.
Regarding the other underpaid group -- the group featured in the article -- I have taken an SSA press release from 2001 on the Special Disability Workload (before it had that name), and updated or commented on it to reflect today’s situation:
Mistakes Cut Social Security Benefits
Retroactive Payments To Average $2,000 [$6,000]
Friday, July 6, 2001; Page A23 [Updates in brackets are as of July 27, 2006]
About 130,000 [500,000] disabled Americans may have been shortchanged on government benefits, but officials said yesterday that they have fixed the problem and will settle up now [as of July 2006, the problem is still not fixed; the software has been deficient since the 1970s].
Those disabled Americans could begin receiving up to $20 [the average is $71] more a month and retroactive payments averaging $2,000 [$6,000], the Social Security Administration said. [The retroactive payments range from a few dollars to over $200,000].
The 130,000 [500,000] had been getting money through a supplemental security program for the needy and were not notified they could be eligible for traditional Social Security, the administration said. [Unfortunately 200,000 are dead, and about 4,000 additional are dying each year, nearly all of whom died never having seen the money owed them.] In some cases, people could be owed benefits for several years [average retroactivity is 12 years, back to 1994].
Larry G. Massanari, the Social Security Administration's acting commissioner, said a review caught the mistake [I caught the mistake -- actually it was many mistakes.], and the administration would ensure people get money they are owed [only after my campaign and not without immense amounts of pressure from me]. Those people will be contacted about the benefits.
[Yes, the living ones will be contacted over the next 10 years, through about 2015. Because a large number of these people will be receiving SSI over the next few years, but should be receiving traditional Social Security only, SSA is spending a net amount of about $16 million per year on needless SSI "maintenance" and overpayment costs.]
[Another 100,000 living SSI recipients should be added to this group, as well as another 50,000 mostly deceased former SSI recipients.]
[Complicating the problem yet further, most states could be owed large sums of Medicare dollars because these individuals received only Medicaid during those years.]
[In a smaller, separate development, over 11,000 widows and widowers, all of whom are over 65 and disabled, have been identified as owed an average of about $10,900 each in back pay (totaling $120 million) and an additional average $103 per month in current benefits. They were identified in 2004 but SSA has yet to attempt to pay them.]
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Cheezum said 99.7 percent of the 52 million people who receive traditional Social Security or supplemental benefits get accurate monthly checks.[original release] © 2001 The Washington Post Company