In the wake of a recent Washington Post news story revealing that more than 100 individuals who were mistakenly issued disability benefits ended up facing unprecedented fines from a federal program accusing them of fraud, an independent watchdog agency has committed to launching an investigation.
The Civil Monetary Program, intended to penalize individuals who commit fraud against the Social Security Administration, imposed millions of dollars in fines against individuals living below the poverty line, including people with disabilities and seniors.
Among them are a Chicago woman who had received about $10,000 in disability benefits and was subsequently punished with a fine of more than $132,000; a 73-year-old who erroneously received benefits after her spouse died of cancer and now faces a charge of more than $119,000; and another who, despite repaying the $26,000 in disability benefits she had wrongly received, now owes another $176,000 in penalties.
The anti-fraud program began instituting these disproportionately high fines in 2018. According to numerous reports and complaints from whistleblowers, attorneys involved failed to follow, or were directed to ignore, federal regulations when imposing these penalties.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) announced it has opened an investigation, as has the Social Security Administration’s acting commissioner.