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SSA IG's call for more audits could affect New Jersey recipients

All Social Security programs that support of New Jersey residents are subject to increasing scrutiny as federal funding tightens and the population needing benefits increases. The Social Security Administration is being strongly pressed to implement new practices ensuring that Supplemental Security Income is paid out accurately and properly.

In a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Human Resources on July 25, the inspector general for the SSA described some of the ways that the agency is being urged to monitor financial eligibility requirements for SSI recipients.

SSI is the assistance program to fight poverty, assuring a minimum income for elderly, disabled or blind people who meet very stringent income requirements. Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance, many of the factors in determining eligibility for SSI are not medical. Some of these factors include resources and assets, income, living situations, potential eligibility for other benefits and U.S. citizenship.

The inspector general has the charge of protecting the SSI program's integrity by assisting the SSA to implement tools that prevent improper payments.

One tool that the IG notes is in use, in the SSA's cost-cutting strategy, but he says could be used more, is the redetermination process. In a redetermination, an SSI beneficiary's case is reviewed periodically to ensure that eligibility requirements are still being met. The IG testified at the hearing that the SSA's redeterminations of SSI cases dropped off during 2008 and 2009, but that the agency dramatically increased scrutiny of existing SSI benefits in 2010 and 2011. He says the SSA estimates it saves $7 for every $1 spent on redeterminations.

Redeterminations are not always done flawlessly, however, and can interrupt or cancel badly needed benefits. In the event of an improper redetermination, beneficiaries can seek the assistance of an experienced professional to advocate for them with the SSA.

The IG also discussed at length the need for the SSA to leverage electronic monitoring of ATM withdrawals, existing real property databases and travel tracking systems to determine whether beneficiaries are hiding assets or income. The official maintained that the SSA has not adequately monitored recipients' absences from the United States and recommended increased scrutiny.

Whether any of these recommendations will find their way into legislative directives by Congress is something we'll have to watch for.

Source: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources, "Statement for the Record Hearing on the Use of Technology to Improve the Administration of SSI's Financial Eligibility Requirements," Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr. Inspector General, Social Security Administration, July 25, 2012

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