At least two dozen relatives of a Southwest Georgia family of 300 members lied to federal investigators about illnesses that entitled them to collect $431,000 in federal disability payments, according to a report released Tuesday.
The ongoing investigation into the family confirmed what some conservative Congressional critics have charged for years: that the nation’s $24 billion supplemental Social Security Income program (SSI) for the disabled is open to widespread abuse.
“The program is rife with fraud, waste and abuse,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which released the report. “This case gives us a snapshot of the systemic problems plaguing the SSI program. Too often people have lied to get benefits. Families are teaching children how to game the SSI system.”
The Georgia investigation, launched in 1992, initially focused on 300 members of the same family, 181 of whom received federal SSI benefits. Benefits to half the recipients were halted after caseworkers re-examined many of the youngest recipients and found they were no longer disabled.
Looking at a smaller group of 66 recipients whose benefits were terminated, investigators found that at least 24 lied about their disabilities and deliberately sought to mislead the examiners.
In one instance, a purportedly deaf SSI recipient asked the interviewer to repeat questions relating to her deafness, but then had no difficulty hearing other questions about her health.
A teacher of one child who had received $56,444 in SSI benefits told investigators that the child’s parents had coached the child “to do whatever is necessary to keep the checks coming.”
Investigators estimate that more than $1 million in benefits were paid to the 66 recipients. They further estimate the federal government saved between $1.7 million and $2.5 million on all the 90 family members whose benefits it halted. The maximum SSI benefits are $494 per month.