Mar 17, 2017

Big Problem With Remittances

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
SSA [Social Security Administration] receives remittances for a variety of reasons, but the majority of remittances are made to repay overpaid benefits. Remittances primarily consist of checks/money orders and credit card charges. SSA also receives a small number of cash payments. SSA’s Remittance and Accounting Unit (RAU) in the Mid -Atlantic Program Service Center (MATPSC) is primarily responsible for processing remittances. However, SSA’s field offices, teleservice centers, and Office of International Operations also process some remittances ... 
RAU processed over 1.7 million remittances, totaling over $892 million, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. This included over 475,000 remittances, totaling over $600 million, SSA field offices received and sent to RAU for final processing. ... 
While SSA processed remittances accurately , it did not process all remittances timely . As of April 22, 2016, RAU had 84,253 unprocessed checks (those RAU received without a remittance coupon), some almost 8-months-old. Without a remittance coupon, RAU cannot scan, process, or deposit the check until it identifies the associated remittance record. RAU also had 57,636 pieces of unopened mail, some pieces almost 2-months-old. ...
[A]s of April 22, 2016, RAU’s workload report identified 57,636 pieces of unopened mail, some dating back to March 9, 2016 and 84,253 unprocessed checks, some dating back to September 1, 2015 ... 
RAU had no unopened mail or unprocessed checks at the end of FY 2012. However, the backlog of unopened mail significantly increased from about 4,000 pieces in FY 2015 to over 57,000 pieces in FY 2016. Additionally, over the same period, the number of unprocessed checks increased from 56,000 to over 84,000 ...
According to SSA, the remittance backlog primarily occurred for two reasons. First, although the number of remittance checks RAU received in FYs 2013 through 2015 remained constant at about 1.5 million, annually, staff size decreased 26 percent from 31 employees in FY 2012 to 23 in FY 2016 ... 
Second, RAU received a large number of remittances without coupons, which delays the remittance process as RAU staff must perform additional research to identify the record associated with the remittance. For example, in FY 2013, RAU received about 317,000 remittances without coupons, and it received about 402,000 in FY 2016. ... 
Because of this backlog, SSA initiated unnecessary collection actions against some beneficiaries. When SSA does not process overpayment remittances for several months, the related debt appears past due in SSA’s debt management system. The past- due rating triggers the Agency to use its external collection tools to recover the debt. For those SSA beneficiaries who are not receiving benefits, SSA may attempt to collect the debt by reporting it to a credit bureau, administrative wage garnishment, or Federal payment offset. SSA uses the Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Treasury Offset Program (TOP) to offset a debt against an individual’s Federal income tax refund or withhold other Federal or State payments. Additionally, when debts are past due, SSA continues sending collection letters and making calls.
     The report goes on to give several examples of tax refunds seized, wages garnished and Social Security benefits reduced unnecessarily because remittances had not been timely processed.
     Social Security is taking corrective action on this problem.
     We might expect a Congressional hearing on this except for the fact that the biggest contributing factor to this mess was lack of adequate staffing caused by an inadequate budget passed by Congress.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Within the last year I received a stale check back from SSA that I had submitted for an excessive attorney fee received. If I recall, the check was over a year old when it was returned. I had to reissue a new check. In neither case was I provided with a remittance coupon. The large number of remittances without a coupon is likely a sign that some other appropriate action is not taking place along the way which is causing them not to be issued. Likely a systems issue or lack of training of those who process the notices.

Anonymous said...

I have probably also contributed to this problem when improperly paid a fee (employed by a nonprofit = waiving all fees). SSA never issued a coupon and I had no idea I should ask for one. I just brought the fee check to the field office and returned it to the center manager. Once tried calling the attorney fee branch about it, but after calling daily for a few weeks realized nobody was ever going to call back and I wanted my client to get the money ASAP.

Anonymous said...

I had a client who tried to set up monthly checks paid by her bank via autopay. She set this up with the SSA payment center & they never mentioned a coupon. SSA held the checks so long before attempting to cash them, that the bank refused payment. SSA then said my client's checks bounced. My client finally had to set up payment via credit card. But SSA still hasn't correctly given credit for all her payments.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of this is SSA's fault. But we also get tons of 10 dollar money orders with no SSN on it, for some massive SSI overpayment they're making the token commitment to to prevent us from grabbing their tax return.

If they've ever previously made a remittance, we can name search them, but some of them just aren't in our system. Cmon, people. :(