Feds Paid Prisoners $1 Million in Disability Payments

Average received $2,322 each

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) gave more than $1 million in improper disability benefits to 440 prisoners, according to the inspector general.

The Inspector General for the SSA (IG) based its report on a sample of 100 beneficiaries, and found that one-fourth had improperly received disability while they were incarcerated.

"SSA issued improper DI benefit payments to beneficiaries for periods they were in correctional institutions," the report said. "Of the 100 sample cases we reviewed, SSA appropriately took action to suspend DI benefit payments for 75 beneficiaries who had periods of conviction and incarceration, but overpaid DI benefits to the remaining 25 sample beneficiaries."

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"Based on this sample, we estimate SSA overpaid about $1 million to 440 beneficiaries," the IG said.

Roughly 317 prisoners received $879,000 in disability insurance, and 123 more were paid $143,000 despite the SSA having suspended their benefits. A total of $1,022,000 erroneous payments were made.

One man was able to collect $22,056 in disability benefits while he was imprisoned in Staten Island, N.Y. from February 2009 to November 2010. Overall, the 440 prisoners received an average of $2,322 in payments.

The IG crosschecked recipients with the Prisoner Update Processing System (PUPS), the agency’s database for incarcerated individuals, finding 1,761 beneficiaries who had received disability and were imprisoned within the last decade. The IG then used a sample from the group to determine its findings.

None of the prisoners were convicted as a result of an insanity plea or mental health issue, the IG said. Numerous mental health disorders are covered for disability by SSA, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and motor tension.

"During our review, we did not identify any individuals who were convicted and found not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty but insane, incompetent to stand trial, or had a similar findings based on similar factors, such as mental disease or incompetence," the report said.

Social Security benefits are not eligible to prisoners. The agency even has a brochure, entitled, "What Prisoners Need to Know," advising criminals that their benefits are supposed to be suspended.

"Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments generally are not payable for months that you are confined to a jail, prison or certain other public institutions for commission of a crime," the agency explains. "You are not automatically eligible for Social Security or SSI payments when you are released."

"The fact that a person is a recent parolee or is unemployed does not qualify as a disability," they said.