2017 Annual Report of the SSI Program

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II. Highlights
The SSI program is a nationwide Federal assistance program administered by SSA that guarantees a minimum level of income for 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.
A. Recent Program Experience
SSI program experience during the past year included the following:
During calendar year 2016, 1.7 million individuals applied for SSI benefits based on blindness or disability, a decrease of 8 percent from 2015. Additionally, 139 thousand individuals applied for SSI benefits based on age, a decrease of 6 percent as compared to the 147 thousand who applied in 2015. In 2016, 766 thousand applicants became new recipients of SSI benefits, a decrease of 4 percent as compared to the 800 thousand who became new recipients in 2015.
Each month on average during calendar year 2016, 8.1 million individuals received Federal SSI benefits. This group was composed of 1.1 million aged recipients and 7.0 million blind or disabled recipients, of which 66 thousand were blind. Of these 7.0 million blind or disabled recipients, 1.2 million were under age 18, and 1.0 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.
B. SSI Legislation Since The 2016 Annual Report
Since we submitted the 2016 Annual Report of the Supplemental Security Income Program to the President and Congress, the following legislative changes have been made to the SSI program:
Public Law 114-241, enacted October 7, 2016
The “Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act of 2016” excludes for SSI purposes payments made by a State program intended to compensate individuals who had been sterilized under the authority of a State. These payments are excluded from consideration as income and, if retained, from resources.
Public Law 114-255, enacted December 13, 2016
The “21st Century Cures Act” includes a provision that allows individuals to establish a trust under section 1917(d)(4)(A) of the Social Security Act, also called a “special needs trust.” Such trusts are generally excluded from consideration as a resource under the Supplemental Security Income program. Prior to enactment, only a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or a court could establish a special needs trust for an individual.
C. Current Issues Facing The SSI Program
For more than 40 years, the SSI program has provided a safety net for aged, blind, and disabled Americans who have nowhere else to turn, and rely on the cash assistance provided by SSI for their basic needs of food and shelter. Because the program plays such a crucial role in the lives of about eight and one quarter million Americans, we are charged with administering it as efficiently as possible, and with paying the right person the right amount of SSI benefits at the right time. Further, because SSI is funded from general tax revenues, we are committed to effectively overseeing the program, protecting taxpayer dollars, and maintaining the public's trust.
Program Integrity
We strive to prevent improper payments—either paying too much (overpayments) or paying too little (underpayments)—and to find, correct, and recover improper payments as soon as possible when they occur.
Making correct payments is especially challenging because SSI is a means-tested program. Accordingly, the correct monthly SSI payment amount changes as a recipient's income, resources, living arrangements, and other circumstances change. The first line of defense against improper payments is timely reporting of these changing circumstances. Recipients are required to report to us changes that may affect their benefits. However, due to any number of circumstances, including impairments for which they receive benefits, recipients may have difficulty in reporting changes in a timely manner. For this reason, it is vitally import- ant that we have a strong portfolio of program integrity tools to detect unreported changes that may affect SSI eligibility and payment, ensuring that only those people eligible for benefits continue to receive them, and receive them in the correct amount.
One of our most effective program integrity tools is our SSI redeterminations process, which are reviews of all of the nonmedical factors of eligibility to determine whether the recipient is still eligible for SSI and receives the correct payment amount. Since we do not receive the administrative funding to do a redetermination on every SSI recipient every year, we use a statistical model to prioritize redeterminations so we can focus on those most likely to involve a change that affects eligibility or the amount of benefits. Redeterminations save billions of program dollars with a comparatively small investment of administrative funds. Based on the program integrity funding available for FY 2017, we expect to complete about 2.5 million SSI redeterminations this fiscal year. The President's proposed FY 2018 Budget would provide funding sufficient to complete 2.8 million SSI redeterminations in FY 2018.1 Our estimates indicate that those FY 2018 redeterminations would yield about $3 of net Federal SSI and Medicaid savings over the first ten years on average per $1 budgeted to conduct those reviews.
Ongoing Efforts
As we have described in prior years’ Annual Reports on the Supplemental Security Income Program, we rely on emerging technology to support our efforts to review recipient eligibility. For example, we use the Access to Financial Institutions (AFI) process to identify excess resources in bank accounts of SSI applicants and recipients by electronically checking for known and potentially unreported accounts directly with the financial institution.
Another important tool we use to reduce improper payments is the SSI Telephone Wage Reporting System (SSITWR). SSITWR is an automated, toll-free telephone number that allows recipients and representative payees to report wages by calling in and using either voice recognition or touch-tone software.
We also have a mobile application that allows individuals to make monthly wage reports through an Android or iPhone smartphone. By entering information through a series of easily followed prompts, recipients can quickly and efficiently report wages from wherever they are. We expect new tools such as these for wage reporting will help reduce improper SSI payments, as compliance with reporting responsibilities is made increasingly easier.
Future Improvements
We continually look for new ways to improve how we prevent, detect and correct improper payments. For example, we recently implemented a method to detect and verify when SSI recipients own real property (e.g., houses other than their primary residence) that they have not reported to us.
In addition, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 authorized us to enter into information exchanges with private, commercial payroll data providers, which collect and sell wage data that are more detailed and timely than the data available to us through our existing exchanges with other Federal agencies. We anticipate that these exchanges, when implemented, will help us prevent improper payments and conserve employee time by allowing us to compare a provider's wage data with those in our records, correct discrepancies, and adjust benefits accordingly. We are currently working to implement such an exchange or exchanges in calendar year 2017.
More than 40 years after its implementation, the SSI program continues to provide support for millions of vulnerable Americans. Our goal remains consistent: to pay the right person the right benefit at the right time, and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that SSI payments are accurate. Moving forward, we will continue to search for ways to simplify the SSI program and to pursue technological improvements, resulting in a program that is easier for the public to understand, more efficient for us to administer, and continues to provide support to vulnerable Americans.
D. Key Results From The 25-Year Projections
The major findings in the 25-year projections prepared for this report are:

In our efforts to accurately pay benefits, we also conduct continuing disability reviews (CDR). CDRs are periodic reviews of a recipient's medical impairment to determine if he or she is still disabled according to the statute. Generally, the cases with the highest likelihood of medical improvement receive a full medical review, whereas, the remaining cases due for review receive a mailer requesting updates on their impairments, medical treatment, and work activities, subject to available administrative funding.

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