There is enough theft of government assistance going on that benefits cheaters don’t need much help, but a new government report shows that some thieves aren’t cheating at all. Instead, they have fallen victim to our overgenerous government not doing its job.
When Washington sends you money you didn’t ask for, what do you do?
Social Security Disability: the money just keeps coming
One of our favorite cash for doing nothing entitlements, Social Security Disability overpaid over $11 billion between 2005 and 2014.1 Some of the extra cash went to people who didn’t report they were working. Some was doled out because the government couldn’t keep track. According to the Government Accountability Office what this means for taxpayers is:
… an annual average of 96,000 DI beneficiaries incurring an average work-related overpayment of $12,000.2
Government benefits are big business. So is cheating. Too many Americans know how to trick the system, but some don’t even have to try. Are we making it so easy to collect public assistance that many Americans don’t know they are cheaters?
Assistance means more than a handout. It also means passing out billions because of mistakes. In 2014 Uncle Sam wrongly paid out $5.6 billion in unemployment insurance benefits, an error rate of 11.6%. Supplemental Security Income wrongly doled out $5.1 billion for 9.2% errors and Retirement Survivors and Disability Insurance mishandled $3 billion.3
That’s just the beginning of the bad benefits payment news. Fortunately, when government assistance goes bad Washington has an answer.
Jobless benefits cheaters get Labor Department encouragement?
As the numbers on income assistance programs grow with big government the ability for bureaucracy to control what it spends falters.
The Labor Department was outraged when the extent of unemployment insurance losses to fraud and errors totaling nearly $18 billion came to light during the dark days of the recession.4 Despite the ease with which bureaucracy loses money on benefits programs the agency continues to encourage Americans to be resentful of denied opportunity and income:
For too many workers in this country, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work doesn’t ring true. This is especially true for workers in industries like fast food, retail, construction, and hospitality, such as hotels or motels. Too often they’re denied the wages to which they are legally entitled, which in many cases means not even receiving the federal minimum wage and overtime from their employers.5
When you don’t get what you deserve, at least government generosity has your back.
Too much money for too many benefit payments
The rise in SNAP spending under Obama is going to be prime campaign trail fodder, but there is more to food assistance than stamps. In 2014 programs to help feed Americans accounted for $100 billion in spending.6 The money was doled out from 18 different benefits programs from all levels of government. “Little was known about the effectiveness …” of 11 of the programs.7 The GAO made suggestions to fix the overlap and got this instead:
In 2013, USDA commissioned a study on the feasibility and potential cost to assess the extent of overlap and duplication among these programs and, based on the results, decided to study the impact of participation in multiple food assistance programs on the nutritional status of participants.8
Benefits fund a lot more than food assistance. Sometimes the money goes to multiple assistance payments for retirees. For example, it is legal under federal law to simultaneously collect compensation from Department of Defense retirement, Veterans Affairs disability, and Social Security disability. This amounted to more than $3.5 billion legally paid out in 2013.9
With Washington so generous we need to rethink who America’s benefits cheaters are. We don’t have the numbers to compare, but the losses beg the question: are bureaucrats and federal agencies costing us more than public assistance crooks?