Probe Launched to Investigate Social Security Fines Against America's Poor

Probe Launched to Investigate Social Security Fines Against America's Poor

After the report, the acting head of SSA had vowed a full investigation.

Last month, the Washington Post reported on problems with the Civil Monetary Penalty program within the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General. The program is meant to stop disability fraud but ended up leading to fines that were levied unfairly against more than 100 people, many of them poor.

“The inflated fees were set in motion during the Trump administration when attorneys in charge of a little-known anti-fraud program run by the inspector general’s office levied unprecedented fines against Deckman and more than 100 other beneficiaries without due process, according to interviews, documents, and sworn testimony before an administrative law judge,” the May 20 Post report said. “In doing so, they disregarded regulations and deviated from how the program had recovered money since its inception in 1995, failing to take into account someone’s financial state, their age, their intentions and level of remorse, among other factors.”

In addition, two employees of the Office of the Inspector General were “escorted out of the agency’s headquarters” when they objected to the fines.

After the report, the acting head of SSA had vowed a full investigation. And now, it appears that a probe is underway, albeit by a different entity. However, a “parallel probe” by the SSA will also continue.

According to the Post, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), an independent watchdog, has opened an investigation into Social Security Inspector General Gail Ennis as well as her office in relation to the fines. Also on Thursday, Congress will question some officials associated with the program, who will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform and Ways and Means Committees.

The investigation is likely to be “far-reaching,” per the report.

The White House also responded. “Given the gravity of the allegations, I strongly encourage the Integrity Committee to work expeditiously,” Jason Miller, deputy director for management for the White House Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter, as reported by the Post. “It is critical that the American public have full confidence in the important work of the Inspector General community, and that is why it is imperative these allegations be resolved in an appropriate and expeditious manner.”

A spokesperson for Ennis vowed cooperation with the probe. Meanwhile, leading Democrats on the committees that deal with Social Security policy had positive words for the news of the probe.

“It’s a welcome first step in understanding who has been harmed by the apparent abuses by Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General, and to what extent,” Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) said in a statement, as reported by the Post.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.