2012 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 2011, 2.4 million individuals applied for SSI benefits based on blindness or disability, a decrease of less than 1 percent from 2010. Additionally, 153 thousand individuals applied for SSI benefits based on age, an increase of 4 percent over 2010. In 2011, 1.0 million applicants were awarded SSI benefits, a decrease of 1 percent as compared to the 1.1 million awarded benefits in 2010.
Each month on average during calendar year 2011, 7.8 million individuals received Federal SSI benefits. This group was composed of 1.1 million aged recipients, 6.6 million disabled recipients, and 65 thousand blind recipients. Of the 6.7 million blind or disabled recipients, 1.3 million were under age 18, and 0.8 million were aged 65 or older. During the year, 8.8 million aged, blind, or disabled individuals received at least 1 month’s Federal SSI benefit.
Each month on average during calendar year 2011, 2.4 million individuals received Federally-administered State supplementation 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 2011, 2.7 million individuals received at least 1 month’s Federally-administered State supplementation payment.
State expenditures for Federally-administered supplements, excluding fees for Federal administration, totaled $3.5 billion in calendar year 2011, down from $3.6 billion in 2010.
The percentage of SSI recipients receiving their benefits electronically increased from 65 percent in fiscal year 2010 to 70 percent in fiscal year 2011. SSI recipient participation in direct deposit increased gradually in the 2000’s after experiencing a period of sharp growth when it more than doubled from 24 percent in 1995 to 49 percent in 2000. We expect electronic receipt of benefits payments 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 2012, 8.2 million individuals received Federally-administered monthly SSI benefits averaging $517. Of these, 7.9 million received monthly Federal SSI payments averaging $497, and 2.4 million received monthly State supplementation payments averaging $118.
Since we submitted the 2011 SSI Annual Report to the President and Congress on May 27, 2011, there have been no legislative changes to the SSI program.
For 38 years, the SSI program has played a vital role as the means of support for aged, blind, and disabled Americans. Currently, the cash assistance received from the program remains a "last resort" for over 8 million of the most vulnerable Americans to meet their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. We continue to strive to improve our administration of the program to reach those in need, to help those able to work to transition to self-support, and to be good stewards of America's tax dollars.
SSI Extension for Refugees
Federal law generally prohibits noncitizens from receiving SSI. However, certain immigrants admitted to the United States for humanitarian reasons may be eligible on a time-limited basis. These eligible immigrant categories include refugees, asylees, aliens granted withholding of deportation or removal, Cuban and Haitian entrants, Amerasian immigrants, victims of trafficking in persons, and certain Afghan or Iraqi immigrants. The SSI eligibility period for these immigrants is limited to 7 years from the point at which immigrant status is attained.
A 2008 law, the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act (P.L. 110-328), established a 3-year window (from October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2011) during which time SSI eligibility could be extended beyond the 7-year period. Under this law, immigrants who attested that they were pursuing U.S. citizenship could receive up to 2 additional years of SSI. In addition, immigrants who had naturalization applications pending or who were awaiting the naturalization oath ceremony were exempt from any time limit on SSI eligibility during the 3-year effective period of the law, and thus could receive benefits for up to 3 additional years, rather than 2. As of October 1, 2011, the extension law expired, and eligibility for both groups reverted to the 7-year time period.
On October 17, 2011, the Senate passed legislation that would extend for 1-year the refugee eligibility policy previously authorized by the 2008 extension law. As of the publication of this report, it does not appear that the House of Representatives will act on this bill during the 112th session of Congress.
Although naturalization applications are being processed much faster today than in years past, we must continue our commitment to refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian immigrants who come to America with very little, and who have nowhere else to go. To that end, the Administration's Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget proposal temporarily extends the SSI eligibility period for these individuals from 7 to 9 years during FYs 2013 and 2014.
SSI Disabled Children
As Congress noted when it established the SSI program, "Disabled children who live in low-income households are…deserving of special assistance in order to help them become self-supporting members of our society."1 Since 1974, the program has assisted many children with disabling conditions and their families. It has allowed parents to care for their children's special needs, provide for their medical treatment, and pay their bills. In some cases, SSI child disability benefits have prevented families from becoming homeless. Each month, we pay over $800 million in cash benefits to almost 1.3 million children with disabling conditions. Many children are likely to have life-long disabilities, but some have medical conditions amenable to significant medical improvement. For this second group, the goal of the SSI program is to help these children develop and acquire the skills needed to support themselves in adulthood and transition off the disability rolls to independence.
Recent newspaper reports have raised concerns about the increase in the number of children receiving SSI based on mental impairments—today, almost two-thirds of child SSI recipients' benefits are based on a mental impairment, such as autism, bipolar illness, depression, and learning problems. These reports have also raised concerns about our responsibility to review cases to make sure these children continue to qualify for benefits over time.
The SSI children's disability program has remained unchanged for almost 15 years. Accordingly, the President's FY 2013 budget request includes funding for an SSI Childhood Disability study. This study will provide an expert, independent analysis of the SSI disability program for children conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. We will consult with a broad range of stakeholders in developing the parameters for the study to ensure the right set of questions are asked and answered.
Access to Financial Institutions
Unreported financial accounts are one of the major causes of improper payments in the SSI program. In an effort to reduce payment errors, we created a web-based system that allows us to identify financial accounts of SSI applicants and recipients that exceed statutory limits. This system, known as Access to Financial Institutions (AFI), has been implemented in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands since the last SSI Annual Report.
The program has proven to be very useful in confirming account balances in known bank accounts, as well as identifying unknown bank accounts. For example, we had a case in which a claimant stated he had a bank account under the $2,000 SSI resource limit. The actual account balance verified through AFI was $200,000. In another case, a claimant said he had only one bank account under the resource limit. Using AFI to contact multiple banks, we uncovered six bank accounts with balances of nearly $25,000 in each account. While these cases are not routine, use of the AFI process will result in considerable SSI and Medicaid program savings each year.
We must be vigilant about protecting program dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse. AFI is a promising initiative and one of our best tools for detecting improper payments. We will continue to work to improve the process to ensure good stewardship of the SSI program.
SSI Telephone Wage Reporting
Wages are also a major source of improper payments. We continue to expand the use of the SSI Telephone Wage Reporting System (SSITWR). SSITWR automates monthly wage reporting by recipients, deemors, and representative payees. Individuals who submit wages via SSITWR call a designated telephone number to report their wages for the prior month. This process allows individuals to report their wages via telephone rather than mail, fax, or hand-deliver information about their monthly wages to their local field office. These reports generally are accurate and require no additional evidence, which saves time in our field offices. SSITWR has allowed us to increase the volume and timeliness of wage reports we receive, and therefore reduce wage-related errors.
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. The economic recession that began in late 2007 led to faster growth in the SSI recipient population in recent years. We expect a fairly high level of growth to continue for a few years as the economy recovers slowly, followed by a return to more modest growth throughout the remainder of the projection period due largely to the growth in the U.S. population. By 2036, we estimate that the Federal SSI recipient population will reach 10.1 million. As a percentage of the total U.S. population, we project the number of Federal SSI recipients to increase slightly from 2.47 percent of the population in 2011 to 2.62 percent by 2036 due largely to the changing age distribution of the population.
We estimate that Federal expenditures for SSI payments in calendar year 2012 will increase by $3.0 billion to $52.0 billion, an increase of 6.1 percent from 2011 levels. In constant 2012 dollars, we pro­ject that SSI program outlays will increase to $64.6 billion in 2036, a real increase of 1.0 percent per year.
Federal SSI expenditures were 0.32 percent of GDP in 2011. We project that such expenditures will increase to 0.33 percent of GDP in 2012, remain essentially level through 2014, and then decline thereafter to 0.25 percent of GDP by 2036.

Ways and Means report on Social Security Amendments of 1972.

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