2011 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 2010, 2.4 million individuals applied for SSI benefits based on blindness or disability, an increase of 3 percent over 2009. Additionally, 148 thousand applied for SSI benefits based on age, an increase of less than 1 percent over 2009. In 2010, 1.1 million applicants were awarded SSI benefits, an increase of 5 percent as compared to the 1.0 million awarded benefits in 2009.
Each month on average during calendar year 2010, 7.6 million individuals received Federal SSI benefits. This group was composed of 1.1 million aged recipients, 6.4 million disabled recipients, and 65 thousand blind recipients. Of the 6.5 million blind or disabled recipients, 1.2 million were under age 18, and 0.8 million were aged 65 or older. During the year, 8.6 million aged, blind, or disabled individuals received at least 1 month’s Federal SSI benefit.
Each month on average during calendar year 2010, 2.4 million individuals received Federally-administered State supplementary payments. This group was composed of 0.6 million aged recipients, 1.8 million disabled recipients, and fewer than 50 thousand blind recipients. During calendar year 2010, 2.6 million individuals received at least 1 month’s Federally-administered State supplementary payment.
State expenditures for Federally-administered supplements, excluding fees for Federal administration, totaled $3.6 billion in calendar year 2010, down from $4.0 billion in 2009.
The percentage of SSI recipients participating in direct deposit reached 65 percent in fiscal year 2010. SSI recipient participation in direct deposit has increased gradually in recent years after experiencing a period of sharp growth when it more than doubled from 24 percent in 1995 to 49 percent in 2000. We expect participation in direct deposit to increase significantly in the next few years as SSI recipients must choose to receive their benefit payments by either direct deposit or the Direct Express® debit card by March 2013.
In January 2011, 8.0 million individuals received Federally-administered monthly SSI benefits averaging $500. Of these, 7.7 million received monthly Federal SSI payments averaging $478, and 2.4 million received monthly State supplementation payments averaging $125.
Since the 2010 SSI Annual Report was transmitted to the President and Congress on August 19, 2010, the following legislative changes were made to the SSI program:
Public Law 111-255, enacted October 5, 2010
Provides for income and resource exclusion of compensation received by SSI beneficiaries or spouses for participating in clinical trials researching treatment of rare diseases or conditions. Excludes the first $2,000 of compensation received per calendar year. The exclusion is effective for a 5-year period from date of enactment.
Public Law 111-291, enacted December 8, 2010
Ratifies a class-action lawsuit settlement (Cobell et al. v. Salazar et al.) that determined the United States had mismanaged American Indian assets for generations. Under the terms of the settlement, Indian landowners who had monies held in mismanaged trust accounts are eligible for settlement payments. These payments are excluded from consideration as income (in the month received) or as a resource (for a period of one year beginning with the month of receipt) for SSI purposes.
Public Law 111-312, enacted December 17, 2010
Excludes Federal tax refunds or advance payments (with respect to refundable tax credits) from income (in the month received) or as a resource (for a period of 12 months from receipt) for Federal or Federally-assisted program purposes, including SSI. The exclusion applies to refunds or advance payments received after December 31, 2009 but before January 1, 2013.
Within the past year, nearly 8 million aged, blind, and disabled individuals received SSI payments to meet their basic needs. In this respect, the program continues to provide a vital lifeline to those in our society who have the least. However, as with any Federal program of this magnitude and complexity, sound administration requires us to critically evaluate program performance and results. In this section, we examine two areas of interest stemming from this critical evaluation:
During the past year, we have continued our progress on initiatives that reduce the occurrence of improper payments caused by inaccurate or untimely income and resource verification. However, SSI overpayments still present our greatest payment accuracy challenge. During fiscal years (FYs) 2010-2012, we project an overpayment accuracy rate of 91.6 percent, 92 percent, and 92.5 percent, respectively.1 Although we still work toward additional improvements in this accuracy rate, these projections show progress when compared with accuracy rates of the recent past. As recently as FY 2008, overpayment accuracy had dropped to 89.7 percent, a reflection of reduced program integrity funding. With the additional resources provided for this work in recent years, we have invested in the strategies described in this section.
Access to Financial Institutions
Unreported financial accounts are one of the major causes of improper payments in the SSI program. As we described in our 2010 report, the Access to Financial Institutions (AFI) is an initiative to verify bank account balances for purposes of determining SSI eligibility. Through the AFI initiative, we verify bank accounts at the SSI recipient’s alleged financial institutions and search other financial institutions for accounts in his or her name. The AFI system improves efficiency by automating our current paper-based verification process and allowing us to verify electronically financial account balances alleged during the claims and redetermination processes. As a result, SSI records are more likely to be correct, and overpayment occurrence reduced. AFI is currently operating in 36 states, and we plan to complete AFI expansion nationwide during FY 2011. Once we fully implement AFI, we project roughly $900 million in lifetime program savings for each year we use the process.
Telephone Wage Reporting
In another effort to reduce improper payments, we continue to use the SSI Telephone Wage Reporting System (SSITWR). The SSITWR system automates monthly wage reporting by recipients, deemors, and representative payees. In the past, recipients needed to mail, fax, or hand-deliver their monthly wage reports to one of our field offices. This manual process required a field office employee to key in wages; thus a delay in the report of wages or a delay in entering this information to our SSI system could create overpayments. Through the SSITWR program, individuals can call a designated agency telephone number to report their monthly wages via a voice-recognition system or touch tone software. Once we have the report, the information automatically updates our SSI claims system. The SSITWR program is available nationwide. The accuracy rate of SSITWR reported wages is 92.2 percent. In contrast, the accuracy rate of initial wage estimates on the SSI record based on a projection of likely earnings is only 75.5 percent.
Program Integrity Funding
Funding for program integrity workloads is critical to maintain and improve SSI payment accuracy. These workloads, Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and SSI redeterminations, are the most important tools we use in completing program integrity work. Medical CDRs are periodic reevaluations of all medical factors to determine if beneficiaries are still disabled. SSI redeterminations are periodic reviews of nonmedical criteria for eligibility, including verification of living arrangements, income, and resources. With timely and adequate funding, we will increase the number of medical CDRs and SSI redeterminations we perform, allowing us to detect and prevent improper payments. With full FY 2012 President’s Budget funding, we plan to conduct 592,000 medical CDRs and 2,622,000 SSI redeterminations. We project that meeting our FY 2012 program integrity goals for CDRs and redeterminations will yield program savings over the 10-year period (through FY 2021) of about $9 billion, including OASDI, Medicare, and Medicaid savings.
We critically evaluate program results just as we do with program performance. To what extent is the SSI program reaching those who are in the greatest need of assistance? Beyond the immediate concern of meeting basic needs, to what extent do federal programs assist those with limited means to become more self sufficient? We addressed these questions in two of the President’s FY 2012 budget proposals.
SSI Extension for Refugees (FY 2012 Budget Proposal)
The SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act (P.L. 110-328), signed into law on September 30, 2008, temporarily extended the seven-year SSI eligibility period for refugees, asylees, and certain other humanitarian immigrants from seven to nine years during the period October 1, 2008, through September 30, 2011. The extension was only applicable in situations where the recipient signed a statement of intent to pursue citizenship. Recipients who had filed for citizenship were exempt from time-limitations, and could receive up to three additional years of SSI during the effective period of the law. With this legislation, Congress acknowledged that humanitarian immigrants may be unable to attain citizenship within the 7-year period of SSI eligibility, even if they apply as soon as they are eligible.
The Administration’s FY 2012 budget contains a proposal that would continue the current extension of SSI eligibility from seven to nine years for refugees, asylees, and other non-citizens in refugee-like immigration statuses. As long as these immigrants show intent to pursue citizenship, they could receive SSI benefits for up to 9 years, through the end date of the effective period (September 30, 2013). During this same period, the exemption from time limits for recipients who had filed for citizenship would also apply. After September 30, 2013, the eligibility period would revert to seven years. In short, the proposal would continue the current policy for an additional 2 years. As with the initial eligibility extension, the proposal underscores the nation’s commitment to refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian immigrants who come to America with very little, and who frequently have nowhere else to go.
PROMISE Grants (FY 2012 Budget Proposal)
The President’s FY 2012 budget also contains a proposal for a study tentatively called PROMISE (Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI). PROMISE seeks to improve the outcomes of SSI child recipients and their families by focusing on situational concerns such as health status, physical and emotional development, and completion of education and training. This study would be a joint project with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor. PROMISE would consist of incentives to States and coordination of existing programs to improve the educational and economic well-being of children receiving SSI, and their families. The program would use competitive grants to test and evaluate interventions that may improve outcomes for these recipients. The Department of Education would administer the initial set of grants and we would be responsible for evaluating and providing data to states. PROMISE would provide SSI child recipients with expanded opportunities and a greater chance of leaving the SSI rolls.
The SSI program continues to provide a safety net for millions of people with limited means. We remain focused on improving automated tools to help reduce improper payments and to ensure we pay the right person the right payment at the right time. We must also continue to ask hard questions about the outcomes for people relying on this assistance of last resort. During the next year, we will continue this effort to be effective stewards of taxpayer funds, even as we also support the SSI program’s mission to provide for those in society who have the least.
The major findings in the 25-year projections prepared for this report are:
Following small declines in the SSI recipient population in the late 1990s due to the combined impact of Public Law 104-121 (the Contract With America Advancement Act of 1996) and Public Law 104-193 (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996), modest growth in the SSI rolls resumed in 2000, and we expect it to continue throughout the projection period largely due to the growth in the U.S. population, although we expect the current economic slowdown to temporarily generate additional growth beyond what we might expect from recent historical trends. By 2035, we estimate that the Federal SSI recipient population will reach 9.9 million. As a percentage of the total U.S. population, we project the number of Federal SSI recipients to increase slightly from 2.42 percent of the population in 2010 to 2.60 percent by 2035 due largely to the changing age distribution of the population.
We estimate that Federal expenditures for SSI payments in calendar year 2011 will increase by $1.5 billion to $49.3 billion, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2010 levels. In constant 2011 dollars, we project that SSI program outlays will increase to $60.9 billion in 2035, a real increase of 0.9 percent per year.
Federal SSI expenditures were 0.293 percent of GDP in 2008 and increased to 0.325 percent of GDP in 2009 due to the economic recession. After increasing slightly to 0.326 percent of GDP in 2010, we project that such expenditures will decrease slightly to 0.324 percent of GDP in 2011, and continue to decline thereafter to 0.244 percent of GDP by 2035.

We determine payment accuracy rates by reviewing and redeveloping a sample of cases where a payment was made within the fiscal year under review. We conduct interviews and redevelop nonmedical factors of eligibility to determine whether the payment was correct. Overpayment and underpayment errors are reported separately. For the FY 2009 accuracy review (the most recent year for which we have finalized data), we reviewed 4,310 cases.

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