Social Security Administration officials paid ineligible welfare recipients who live outside the U.S. more than $1.5 million in recent years, a new SSA Office of Inspector General report estimates.
Federal law prohibits people living abroad from accepting Social Security Insurance, the taxpayer-funded program for disabled citizens and low-income adults over age 65. SSI, which requires no work history, differs from the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance Program (OASDI) that most Americans pay into during their working years and begin receiving upon retirement.
The IG estimated the agency improperly paid about $1.1 million to 246 SSI recipients using a single Puerto Rico bank from December 2010 to April 2015.
“We identified 1,196 SSI recipients who received SSA payments direct deposited into bank accounts outside the United States,” the IG said. “Based on our review of bank records for randomly selected recipients, we estimate SSA issued approximately $1.1 million in improper SSI payments to 246 individuals who lived in Puerto Rico and received payments direct deposited into accounts at Bank ‘A.’ We also estimate that SSA issued $379,295 in improper payments from May 2014 through April 2015 and will continue issuing improper payments without corrective action.”
The IG didn’t investigate each of the 1,196 SSI recipients who banked outside the U.S in that period, but 1,171 used Puerto Rico or Virgin Islands banks. A handful of recipients routed payments to banks in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Poland, India, Canada and Hungary.
“SSA personnel did not timely respond to foreign address alerts generated on these records,” the IG found.
The IG said the agency needs to investigate residency when SSI payments go through foreign banks, and occasionally re-verify recipients’ residency. SSA officials agreed.
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