Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Overlapping Disability and Unemployment Benefits Should be Evaluated for Potential Savings

In fiscal year 2010, 117,000 individuals received concurrent cash benefit payments from the Disability Insurance (DI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs of more than $850 million, which is allowable in certain circumstances under current program authority. While these individuals represented less than 1 percent of the total beneficiaries of both programs, the cash benefits they received totaled over $281 million from DI and more than $575 million from UI. One individual GAO selected for further investigation received over $62,000 in overlapping benefits in a year. Based on GAO inquiries, state UI officials are reviewing the person’s UI eligibility because of earnings that may be related to work that makes the person ineligible for UI benefits.

Under certain circumstances, individuals may be eligible for concurrent cash benefit payments due to differences in DI and UI eligibility requirements. Specifically, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of a disability involves work that does not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2010, a monthly income of $1,000 or more for a non-blind beneficiary generally demonstrated SGA. In contrast, the Department of Labor allows states’ determination of “able and available for work” eligibility criteria for UI benefits to include work that does not rise to the level of SGA. Therefore, some individuals may have a disability under federal law but still be eligible for UI under state law because they are able and available for work that does not rise to the level of SGA. Although DI and UI generally provide separate services to separate populations—and thus are not overlapping programs—the concurrent cash benefit payments for individuals eligible for both programs are an overlapping benefit when both replace lost earnings. While SSA must reduce DI benefits for individuals receiving certain other government disability benefits, such as worker’s compensation, no federal law authorizes an automatic reduction or elimination of overlapping DI and UI benefits. As a result, neither SSA nor DOL has any processes to identify these overlapping payments. Reducing or eliminating overlapping or improper payments could offer substantial savings, though actual savings are difficult to estimate because the potential costs of establishing mechanisms to do so are not readily available.

For the full report, click here.

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