New Social Security Initiatives Create Confusion, Potential Fraud
Washington, DC – The Social Security Administration recently has tried several new directives for dealing with benefit applicants, including a new system for filing Social Security benefits via the Internet. Some of the new directives already are causing problems for the SSA and applicants alike.
The new iClaims and Ready Retirement initiatives were designed to streamline the Social Security Administration by moving the public to Internet services, but according the American Federation of Government Employees, it is doing the opposite. “Without an SSA employee adjudicating the claims, we run the risk of fraud and incorrect claims being filed,” said AFGE Council 220 President Witold Skwierczynski.
“It’s not only people who are filling out fraudulent applications, but applicants who just don’t understand the confusing iClaims process and are unknowingly cheating themselves out of their deserved benefits,” said Skwierczynski. “Moving the public over to Internet services short-changes anyone who attempts to use these services and creates a situation where fraud easily can occur. Filing for Social Security benefits is not something easily handled over the Internet, particularly if the applicant is not computer savvy.”
Here are some of the ways that the Social Security Administration is changing existing policies:
With the new iClaims service, anyone who knows your personal information (i.e. ex-spouse, child, assistant, etc.) can file for your benefits without your knowledge.
The marriage documentation policy has been altered to limit the information that is collected. Previous marriage information once provided SSA employees with leads to inquire about potential benefits to children and ex-spouses – benefits that do not affect the wage earner at all. With the new policy, applicants receive no guidance online about these choices when filing without the assistance of an SSA representative.
SSA employees no longer can advise the applicant that they have chosen a disadvantageous month to begin benefits, meaning that if an SSA employee knows that an applicant is missing out on deserved benefits, the employee can’t say a word.
Applicants for unreduced benefits often are unaware that they can choose to file for spouse benefits (including independently entitled divorced spouse benefits), preserving retirement benefits for age 70 to take advantage of delayed retirement credits.
Another recent change eliminated the fugitive felon and parole/probation violator questions, with the first notice of the non-payment provisions being provided to the applicant in the award notice, after checks have started.
The Social Security Act requires that rights and responsibilities be communicated to benefit applicants through personal contact by an SSA employee. Those employees receive four months of in-depth training on the law, policy and procedures to ensure claims are taken and paid correctly. On average, it takes a claims representative three years to become proficient.
“Our employees know the ins and outs of the process. With the advent of iClaims, they have found that many applicants make choices and decisions that are disadvantageous because they are left to fend for themselves in navigating through our complex set of laws, rules and regulations,” said Skwierczynski. “We all know the frustration of getting a ‘machine’ when we need a person. These are your retirement benefits at stake. It’s time to stop cutting corners. Our service centers need to be staffed and funded properly so we can do our jobs, so Americans can get the benefits they deserve.”
AFGE also is concerned about how the SSA is dealing with the Help America Vote Act. States are required to authenticate new registration applicants using the last four digits of their Social Security number or driver’s license, and match that number to the Social Security database. However, databases are prone to errors such as data entry mistakes which result in spelling mistakes, and switched numbers. Because of this there is now a 28.5 percent error rate with the matches between voter registration records and the SSA database.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.