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Editorial: Social Security needs to clean its disability rolls

The Social Security disability program is set to go broke in October 2016 – in large part because, for a decade, benefits being paid out have outstripped payroll taxes being paid in.

But it certainly doesn’t help that the agency is shelling out billions in fraudulent payments.

A 10-year study by the Social Security Administration’s inspector general found nearly half of the 9 million people receiving disability payments were overpaid – some made too much money to qualify for benefits, some were no longer disabled, some were in prison or dead.

One man had been convicted of fraud for getting benefits under his father’s Social Security number, ordered to repay nearly $18,000, paid back $550, then filed a new disability claim and received benefits under his own Social Security number.

An estimated $17 billion in fraud over 10 years isn’t a huge number when you pay out $142 billion in disability benefits in a year. But as Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says, “every dollar misallocated is a dollar lost for those who truly need it most (and the IG’s) report shows the inability of the Social Security Administration to properly safeguard payments, which has no doubt contributed to speeding the fund toward exhaustion.”

Projections show that, unless Congress intervenes, Social Security will automatically cut disability benefits 19 percent near the end of 2016, when the program will collect only enough payroll taxes to pay 81 percent of benefits.

The IG’s report concludes “the agency could do more to prevent the most common overpayments.”

It must, if Congress is to have any inclination to increase allocations to keep the fund solvent next year.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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