Social Security: Extensive Trump-Era Fines Issued to ‘Poor, Disabled and Elderly’ Under Investigation

Mature woman helping elderly mother with paperwork.
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An anti-fraud program run by the Social Security Administration’s watchdog division is under investigation for allegedly imposing severe penalties on poor, disabled and elderly Americans.

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Acting Social Security commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi was scheduled to launch a “full investigation” into the matter beginning on May 23, The Washington Post reported. The investigation comes on the heels of an earlier Washington Post report that revealed how attorneys in charge of the program issued unprecedented fines beginning during the Trump administration.

More than 100 people who received disability benefits to which they were not entitled faced penalties as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Post said. The fines were imposed on disadvantaged people who lack the financial resources to pay the penalties.

Kijakazi “has very serious concerns about the issues raised by The Washington Post about the inspector general’s oversight of this program,” Scott Frey, Kijakazi’s chief of staff, told the Post in an interview. Kijakazi scheduled a meeting with senior staff this week to discuss how to proceed.

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Top House Democrats with oversight of the SSA urged President Joe Biden to investigate the reports.

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“We are outraged by this stunning report,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), Social Security subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-Conn.) and worker and family support subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) wrote in a statement late last week.

They added that Biden and Kijakazi should “swiftly investigate this apparent abuse of authority, to put in place safeguards to prevent future abuse, and to provide relief to any individuals wrongfully victimized.”

White House officials said in an email to The Washington Post that they are aware of the issue but offered no further comment. The Senate Finance Committee is also evaluating the allegations.

The penalties under investigation were issued by the Civil Monetary Penalty Program beginning in 2018. Attorneys reportedly went against federal regulations and deviated from a decades-long process of how the program usually recovered money from Social Security beneficiaries accused of fraud. Among other things, the inspector general’s office has been accused of failing to take into account recipients’ finances, age, intentions and level of remorse.

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Over a seven-month period that ended in mid-2019, 83 people were charged a total of $11.5 million, according to the Post. That compares to less than $700,000 for all of 2017.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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