An individual with $150,000 in the bank received Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a program intended for blind, disabled, or elderly individuals with limited financial resources, revealed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a recent report.
SSI, though administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is funded by general tax revenue. It is intended to support basic survival needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Many retirees on Social Security with benefits below the poverty level receive SSI. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, SSI benefits totaling about $46 billion were paid to approximately 9 million people.
In 2013, an income over $1,505 per month ($2,217 for couples) generally disqualified individuals from receiving SSI payments. Recipients must also have had less than $2,000 ($3,000 for couples) in assets, including additional residential properties and retirement accounts. In order to verify that those receiving benefits are truly eligible, the SSA occasionally conducts “redeterminations” in which it attempts to verify a recipient’s income and assets.
The SSA conducted 2.4 million redeterminations in FY 2011, resulting in a savings of $3.2 billion. In conducting these redeterminations, the SSA has taken advantage of a new tool called Access to Financial Institutions (AFI). AFI allows the SSA to access records of financial institutions to discover hidden bank accounts. The tool more than pays for itself with a return on investment of $9 to $1 spent, according to the GAO.
One example of AFI in action:
In January 2012, for example, SSA reported using AFI to identify where a recipient had 6 unreported financial institution accounts that each had balances of nearly $25,000. The recipient, however, reported having only one financial institution account that was under the resource limit.
Someone with nearly $150,000 should not be receiving SSI payments intended for people in great financial need. More tools like AFI are needed to help crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse across all federal programs.
Danny Huizinga is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.