Like a patient being upgraded from "critical" in the intensive care unit to "stable" condition, the GAO has recognized management improvements and has removed the supplemental security income program from its high-risk list. In doing so, GAO recognized the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) efforts to improve the management of the program. SSI, administered by SSA, is a needs-based financial assistance program that makes monthly payments to people who are disabled or aged and have limited income and assets.
"The American people expect and deserve well-managed programs," said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security. "The removal of the SSI program from the high-risk list is an example of our commitment to good stewardship. I want to thank the Deputy Commissioner, Jim Lockhart, for his leadership in developing a corrective action plan that ultimately led to GAO's favorable decision."
The GAO report states that "SSA has made sufficient progress in improving SSI's financial integrity and management to warrant removing its high-risk designation." SSA established a task force that outlined initiatives to improve the management of the SSI program. This task force meets monthly to discuss progress and a newly designed management report.
Some of the key initiatives include:
- increasing the number of financial reviews which verify that SSI beneficiaries continue to be eligible from 1.8 million in 1997 to 2.4 million in 2001
- increasing the number of disability reviews to determine that a person is still disabled
- increasing access to online data from financial institutions, federal and state government agencies and nursing homes to verify information about applicants
- improving SSI overpayment collections through tax and Social Security offsets
- establishing cross-agency Cooperative Disability Investigation teams lead by SSA's Inspector General
- developing program simplification initiatives
SSI is the nation's largest cash assistance program for the poor. SSI is a means-tested program to provide or supplement the income of disabled, blind, or aged individuals with limited income and assets. In 2002, SSA made $38 billion in payments to more than 6.8 million SSI beneficiaries. Approximately 36 percent of SSI beneficiaries also receive Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits.
"I agree with GAO's assessment that SSA must remain vigilant on issues of program integrity," said Commissioner Barnhart. "I'm pleased that the Comptroller General agrees with me and shares my commitment to improving the disability process and to assisting people with disabilities go to work. My service delivery budget, which I submitted last fall to the Office of Management and Budget, addresses these and other stewardship and service goals."