SSA Still Shortchanging Retirement Beneficiaries With Widow(er)’s Benefits

Jul 21, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

SSA administers the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program to provide monthly benefits to retired and disabled workers, including their dependents and survivors. An individual may be entitled to more than one benefit at the same time. For example, an individual can be dually entitled to retirement benefits based on his/her own earnings and widow(er)’s benefits based on the earnings of his/her deceased spouse. SSA conducted a recent survey with the objective of determining whether there were individuals receiving retirement benefits who may have been eligible for, but not receiving, higher widow(er)’s benefits.

They identified individuals receiving retirement benefits who were eligible for higher benefits as widow(er)s. This occurred because SSA (1) did not always develop and dispose of survivor leads and/or (2) does not have processes to detect beneficiaries potentially eligible for higher widow(er)’s benefits. Based on the results of the review, they estimate—of the 30,76813 retirement beneficiaries in our population&mash;15,076 were eligible for an additional $193.8 million in widow(er)’s benefits as of September 2019. Further, if these individuals do not file for benefits, they estimate 12,615 of these beneficiaries could lose an additional $530.9 million in widow(er)’s benefits over their lifetimes.

Although SSA had marriage and death information, it did not always identify and notify retirement beneficiaries of their potential eligibility to widow(er)’s benefits. SSA has processes in place to identify existing and previously entitled spouses who are eligible for widow(er)’s benefits. However, based on their review of SSA’s policies and procedures, they concluded SSA does not have processes to identify retirement beneficiaries who are potentially eligible for widow(er)’s benefits if those beneficiaries were not previously entitled to spouse’s benefits and have not filed for benefits.

The researchers conclude, “If SSA staff fails to develop and dispose of survivor leads and does not establish additional controls, beneficiaries’ eligibility to widow(er)’s benefits may continue to go undetected. Based on the results of our review, we estimate 15,076 retirement beneficiaries were eligible for an additional $193.8 million in widow(er)’s benefits as of September 2019. Further, if the individuals do not apply for benefits, we estimate 12,615 of these beneficiaries could lose an additional $530.9 million in widow(er)’s benefits over their lifetimes.”

You can find the full report and recommendations for the SSA here.

 

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