Ranking Member Larson Opening Statement at Social Security Subcommittee Hearing on Stopping Disability Fraud
(Remarks as prepared)
Social Security is a sacred compact made with the American public: hard-working men and women pay into this important insurance program, and they know they can count on it for security in retirement, or if they face disability or premature death. We owe the 61 million Social Security beneficiaries efficient administration and our most robust efforts to combat fraud, waste, and abuse where it exists. While the actual number of fraud and erroneous payment cases is relatively small -- those who seek to defraud the Social Security Administration and the beneficiaries they serve, deserve nothing less than the harshest punishment.
That is why I would like to thank my friend Chairman Sam Johnson for today’s important hearing. Many of the actions the Social Security Administration has already taken to combat fraud were the result of bipartisan efforts here in Congress. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 included a dozen separate provisions aimed at fighting fraud and reducing errors and overpayments. These ideas came from different proposals introduced by Chairman Johnson and my predecessor, Xavier Becerra, and drew from recommendations from Social Security and its Inspector General.
The reforms included establishing stronger penalties for those who engage in a conspiracy to commit fraud – making it a felony punishable by 5 years in prison and fines of $250,000.
For persons who abuse public positions of trust – such as doctors, attorneys, current or former SSA employees – the law increased the penalty to 10 years in prison.
Remember that it was the frontline Social Security Administration employees who often discovered and reported patterns of fraudulent behavior. The same staff that is being lost due to cuts to the Social Security Administration’s operating budget. Consider that 7 million new beneficiaries have entered the system since 2010 and that Social Security’s operating budget has fallen by 10 percent in that same time period.
While Congress has dedicated funding to the Social Security Administration’s integrity programs to investigate fraud – we continue to provide less and less for basic frontline services – processing benefit applications, conducting appeals hearings, answering phone calls and helping constituents in-person at local field offices. Failing to provide a sufficient operating budget for the Social Security Administration does nothing to preserve the integrity of Social Security – rather it actively contributes to the problem.
Regarding the continued integrity of the system, I’d like to speak to another issue that may come before our committee. It has been reported by the AP, the LA Times, and others that the White House may be pushing for the elimination of the payroll tax as a part of the tax reform blueprint that Chairman Brady and the Speaker are pursuing. Social Security’s greatest strength is that it is not an entitlement. It is an insurance program that workers and their employers have paid into through what is essentially premium payments. That link between the premiums that people pay into the system and the benefits they receive when they retire or lose their ability to work – is essential. Breaking that fundamental principle weakens the public’s support and understanding of Social Security. If enacted, the elimination of the payroll tax will serve as a Trojan Horse through which future benefit cuts will be justified and enacted. I ask the Chairman and my colleagues to join with me in protecting and enhancing America’s greatest insurance program, Social Security.