September 22, 2023

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: Fighting Big Government Failures at the Social Security Administration

September 22, 2023

Social Security is the largest program in the federal budget, managing over $1 trillion in payments to roughly 70 million beneficiaries annually. It’s a necessary program and an important part of retirement for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, like many big government programs, Washington is failing to prevent its waste, fraud, and abuse costing taxpayers billions. For example, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 alone, Social Security’s combined Disability Insurance (DI), Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) programs sent out over $6 billion in overpayments. Overpayments happen when the government accidentally gives beneficiaries more than they were entitled to. Six billion dollars is more than the entire State of Nebraska’s general fund budget that year. 

These overpayments shouldn’t have happened. Congress passed legislation eight years ago to create a “Payroll Information Exchange” to reduce improper payments, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) has failed to implement it. In 2021, the SSA published a notice of implementation, but no regulations have been published since then. Now, the SSA says they will not act until January 2024. 

This is a classic big government failure and it’s totally unacceptable. When the government mistakenly makes overpayments, beneficiaries are required to pay it back. This can often be a confusing and time-consuming fix. So as the SSA kicked the can down the road and failed to implement a solution, families in need have been forced to suffer costly consequences. The many families who rely on Social Security benefits to help make ends meet deserve better. 

Darnel from Cass County is one example. His Social Security benefits were being withheld due to an overpayment based on work. He felt he had paid back the overpayment but couldn’t get Social Security to respond to his request for confirmation of the amount he’d paid or owed. Darnel reached out to our office for help. Our team submitted a congressional inquiry on his behalf. After a review of his record, Social Security determined Darnel was right. The overpayment amount had been settled and they had been wrongfully withholding the crucial benefits Darnel was owed. 

Darnel should never have had this problem. The Social Security Administration failed him not once, but twice. First, they overpaid him. Then, once he paid back the overpayment, they continued wrongfully withholding his benefits. Their mistake cost him valuable time he could have spent in many other productive ways. Had SSA taken the proper steps to combat their mistakes, Darnel and countless other Americans could have avoided the hassle of fighting for benefits they earned. 

Our federal bureaucracy should serve taxpayers well. When it fails, it’s Congress’ job to provide oversight. I am proud of how we streamlined and simplified state government as Governor and am bringing that same experience to Washington as U.S. Senator for Nebraska. I will never stop fighting the failures of big government bureaucracy and will continue pursuing policy solutions that improve the level of transparency and service for our citizens. 

I am proud of the work our team of dedicated casework staff across the state does to help Nebraskans like Darnel fight these bureaucratic failures. We have offices in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney, and Scottsbluff. Our team is specially trained in assisting constituents with concerns, complaints, or questions about services, eligibility, or benefits from the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies. While we cannot promise a successful resolution of every case, our team is committed to using every tool available to fight for Nebraskans in need. 

If you are having trouble navigating the federal bureaucracy, we can help connect you to resources that may help provide answers. You can find more information and needed privacy release forms on the “Services” tab at www.ricketts.senate.gov. You can also check out our “Frequently Asked Questions” page which has more specific instructions about the federal issues we may be able to help with, like passports, VA benefits, visas, and more.