2013 Annual Report of the SSI Program

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The SSI program is a nationwide Federal assistance program administered by SSA that guarantees a minimum level of income for needy aged, blind, or disabled individuals. This section presents highlights of recent SSI program experience, a summary of important changes to the program in the last year, a discussion of current issues facing the SSI program, and a summary of the key results from the 25-year projections.
SSI program experience during the past year included the following:
During calendar year 2012, 2.3 million individuals applied for SSI benefits based on blindness or disability, a decrease of 5 percent from 2011. Additionally, 147 thousand individuals applied for SSI benefits based on age, a decrease of 4 percent from 2011. In 2012, 973 thousand applicants were awarded SSI benefits, a decrease of 7 percent as compared to the 1.0 million awarded benefits in 2011.
Each month on average during calendar year 2012, 8.0 million individuals received Federal SSI benefits. This group was composed of 1.1 million aged recipients, 6.8 million disabled recipients, and 65 thousand blind recipients. Of the 6.9 million blind or disabled recipients, 1.3 million were under age 18, and 0.9 million were aged 65 or older. During the year, 9.0 million aged, blind, or disabled individuals received at least 1 month’s Federal SSI benefit.
Since we submitted the 2012 SSI Annual Report to the President and Congress on May 30, 2012, the following legislative changes have been made to the SSI program:
Public Law 112-240, enacted January 2, 2013
Makes permanent the exclusion from income of all refundable, Federal, and advance tax credits. The law also makes permanent the 12-month resource exclusion of all refundable Federal and advanced tax credits.
For nearly 40 years, the SSI program has been a crucial lifeline for the most vulnerable among us. Every month, it helps over 8 million aged, blind, and disabled Americans meet their basic need for food, clothing, and shelter. We strive to improve our administration of this vital program by reaching those in need, helping those able to work to transition to self-support, and being good stewards of the Nation's tax dollars.
Program Integrity
The SSI benefit, which is means tested, is designed to reflect even small fluctuations in a beneficiary's income, resources, and living arrangements. To pay benefits accurately, we must consider the many changes that can occur in individuals' lives every month. Over the years, adjusting SSI benefits to reflect current circumstances has grown more challenging: our other workloads have increased, our funding has decreased and is not predictable, and society and SSI law have become more complex.
We have embraced our responsibility to both determine SSI eligibility in a timely manner and pay benefits accurately. Our goal is to pay the right person the right benefit at the right time, and we use many tools to ensure that SSI benefits are accurate. One of our most valuable tools is the SSI redetermination process. During a redetermination, we review the non-medical aspects of a beneficiary's case to ensure that the benefit is accurate and based on up-to-date information. In fiscal year 2012, we completed about 2.6 million redeterminations and limited issues, a type of targeted redetermination. This represents an increase of about 170,000, or roughly 7 percent, from fiscal year 2011.
Access to Financial Institutions
A leading cause of improper payments is beneficiaries holding money in excess of the SSI resource limits ($2,000 for an individual, $3,000 for a couple) in financial institution accounts. Access to Financial Institutions (AFI)—an innovative partnership between SSA and the financial community—now provides timely access to bank account information. Using AFI, we are able to electronically verify the accounts that beneficiaries disclose to us and search for other non-disclosed bank accounts. Before implementation of AFI, we relied primarily on beneficiary self-reporting and, to a lesser degree, information from the Internal Revenue Service to detect large bank accounts.
AFI has proven to be a successful and powerful tool in preventing and detecting SSI improper payments. For example, a claimant stated that he had a bank account under the $2,000 resource limit, but AFI found that the actual balance was $200,000. Another claimant said he had only one bank account, but AFI uncovered six with balances of nearly $25,000 each. While not routine, these cases demonstrate the potential of AFI to improve accuracy and generate savings for the SSI and Medicaid programs.
SSI Telephone Wage Reporting
Wages are the second leading cause of SSI improper payments. To help address this issue, we continue to expand the use of the SSI Telephone Wage Reporting System (SSITWR). SSITWR is an automated, toll free service that allows beneficiaries, deemors, and representative payees to send us wage information by phone. This process is convenient and saves time for both our beneficiaries and our field offices because successful SSITWR reports automatically update our records. SSITWR has allowed us to process more wage reports in a timely manner and, because these reports are generally accurate, reduce wage-related improper payments.
In addition to continuing to expand the use of SSITWR, SSA is exploring other ways to improve our access to timely wage information.
SSI Disabled Children
As Congress noted when it established the SSI program, “Disabled children who live in low-income households are…deserving of special assistance in order to help them become self-supporting members of our society.” Since 1974, the program has assisted many children with disabling conditions and their families. It has allowed parents to care for their children's special needs, provide for their medical treatment, and pay their bills. In some cases, SSI child disability benefits have prevented families from becoming homeless. Each month, we pay over $800 million in cash benefits to about 1.3 million children with disabling conditions. Many children are likely to have life-long disabilities, but some have medical conditions amenable to significant medical improvement. For this second group, the goal of the SSI program is to help them develop and acquire the skills needed to support themselves in adulthood and transition from the disability rolls to independence.
The SSI children's disability program has remained unchanged for almost 15 years. Accordingly, outside experts will conduct an SSI Childhood Disability study that will provide an independent analysis of the SSI disability program for children. We will consult with a broad range of stakeholders in developing the parameters for the study to ensure the right set of questions are asked and answered.
The major findings in the 25-year projections prepared for this report are:

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