THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Supplemental Security Income
Eligibility of Refugees
Date: July 10, 2009 Refer To:
To: The Commissioner
From: Inspector General
Subject: Supplemental Security Income Eligibility of Refugees (A-02-09-29001)
The attached final quick response evaluation presents the results of our review. Our objective was to assess the Social Security Administration’s controls over Supplemental Security Income payments to refugees, asylees, and other non-citizens in refugee-like immigration status.
If you wish to discuss the final report, please call me or have your staff contact Steven L. Schaeffer, Assistant Inspector General for Audit, at (410) 965-9700.
Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr.
By conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations and investigations, we inspire public confidence in the integrity and security of SSA’s programs and operations and protect them against fraud, waste and abuse. We provide timely, useful and reliable information and advice to Administration officials, Congress and the public.
The Inspector General Act created independent audit and investigative units, called the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The mission of the OIG, as spelled out in the Act, is to:
Conduct and supervise independent and objective audits and investigations relating to agency programs and operations.
Promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency within the agency.
Prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in agency programs and operations.
Review and make recommendations regarding existing and proposed legislation and regulations relating to agency programs and operations.
Keep the agency head and the Congress fully and currently informed of problems in agency programs and operations.
To ensure objectivity, the IG Act empowers the IG with:
Independence to determine what reviews to perform.
Access to all information necessary for the reviews.
Authority to publish findings and recommendations based on the reviews.
We strive for continual improvement in SSA’s programs, operations and management by proactively seeking new ways to prevent and deter fraud, waste and abuse. We commit to integrity and excellence by supporting an environment that provides a valuable public service while encouraging employee development and retention and fostering diversity and innovation.
Our objective was to evaluate the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) controls over Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments to refugees, asylees and other non citizens in refugee-like immigration status.
The SSI program, authorized by Title XVI of the Social Security Act, provides payments to recipients who meet certain financial limits and are aged, blind or disabled. Refugees, asylees and other non citizens in a refugee like immigration status meeting income and resource requirements may receive SSI payments. As originally established, SSI eligibility for these non-citizens was not time-limited.
Effective with the passage of Public Law Number (Pub. L. No.) 104 193, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, and subsequent legislation, non citizens who entered the United States after August 22, 1996 were eligible for SSI payments for a maximum of 7 years. Under this Law, the 7 year period began the month the Department of Homeland Security granted immigration status. After the 7 year period, non-citizens, with a few exceptions, would no longer be eligible for SSI payments unless they became naturalized United States citizens or showed they met criteria to remain eligible for SSI payments. The 7 year limit on payments did not affect blind or disabled non-citizens already receiving SSI payments or those who were already lawfully residing in the United States on or before August 22, 1996.
The SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act of 2008 increased the maximum number of years certain qualified non-citizens can receive benefits from 7 to 9 through Fiscal Year 2011. In comments in support of the Act, a Congressman noted that SSA estimated that about 20,000 refugees would have their benefits restored over the following 3 years because of this legislative change.
Non-citizens applying for SSI must provide evidence of their immigration status to determine their eligibility for payments. SSA staff records the applicant’s immigration status based on the evidence provided. SSA’s Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System (MSSICS) uses the information input by staff to derive the appropriate alien eligibility reason (AER) code. SSA staff can also manually add an AER code to the Supplemental Security Record (SSR) based on evidence provided by SSI applicants or recipients.
The AER code on the SSR indicates whether a non-citizen’s eligibility for SSI payments is time-limited or based on a provision that permits continual SSI payments as long as other eligibility factors are met. There are nine AER codes, as described in the following table.
AER Code Description
1 Qualified non-citizen admitted to the United States as a refugee
2 Qualified non-citizen whose deportation has been withheld
3 Qualified non-citizen lawfully admitted for permanent residence with 40 work credits
4 Qualified non-citizen on active duty in the military or honorably discharged veterans
5 Qualified non-citizen who is a spouse/widow(er) of an active duty military or honorably discharged veteran
6 Qualified non-citizen who is a child of an active duty military or honorably discharged veteran
7 Grandfathered qualified non-citizen indicator
8 Aged non-citizen requiring a disability determination
9 Grandfathered nonqualified non-citizen receiving SSI on August 22, 1996 or earlier
Each month, the Database Analysis (DABA) system selects SSRs of non-citizens for termination when their eligibility for SSI expires. The AER code, citizenship alien code and alien entry date in the SSR are used to determine whether SSI payments should continue or terminate. If payments are time-limited, the alien entry date is used to determine when a non-citizen’s eligibility expires.
To accomplish our objective, we obtained a data extract from 1 segment of the SSR of 4,437 active records (as of August 1, 2008) comprising non citizens. From this population, we selected multiple samples of records for multiple tests of the effectiveness of SSA’s controls over SSI payments made to non-citizens. More specifically, we tested the completeness and accuracy of the data SSA used to determine non-citizens’ SSI eligibility and the accuracy of payments made to
non-citizens. In total, we reviewed 383 records. We forwarded cases we believed were questionable to SSA for verification and a determination of the cause of any inaccuracies. Additional details of our scope and methodology are found in Appendix B.
Results of Review
We found SSA’s controls over SSI payments to refugees, asylees and other non-citizens in refugee-like immigration status were generally effective. SSA made proper payments to eligible non-citizens in almost all cases. We identified a few cases where non-citizens beyond their 7-year eligibility period received SSI payments because of inaccurate AER codes in the SSR. We found 5 of the 383 recipients we reviewed received SSI payments after their 7-year eligibility period and were improperly paid $11,386.
ACCURACY OF AER CODES
The AER codes for three of the five recipients who received payments beyond the
7-year period of eligibility were incorrectly recorded on the SSR. The three recipients’ records contained AER codes indicating their SSI payments were not time-limited, though they should have been limited to the 7-year period.
• Two of the recipients’ AER codes were recorded as ‘7,’ indicating their SSI eligibility was based on a “grandfathered” status. However, the two recipients’ dates of entry into the United States were later than August 1996, so they were not eligible for the “grandfathered” status their records indicated. Their payments should have stopped 7 years after the Department of Homeland Security granted them immigration status. The two recipients received payments for 9 and 11 months past their 7-year time limit and were improperly paid $5,076 and $689, respectively.
• The third recipient had an AER code ‘4,’ which meant her SSI eligibility was based on active duty in the military or an honorably discharged veteran status. The payments for SSI recipients with an AER code ‘4’ are not limited to the 7 year time period. However, the recipient should have had an AER code of ‘1’ since she entered the United States as a refugee, and her SSI payments should have been limited to 7 years. She obtained her alien status in May 2001. Based on this date, SSA should have stopped payments in June 2008, but payments continued for an additional 4 months resulting in $4,196 in improper payments.
We found another case in addition to the three discussed above that contained an incorrect AER code. The recipient’s AER code was recorded as ‘7,’ indicating his SSI eligibility was based on a “grandfathered” status even though his date of entry into the United States was later than August 1996. The Agency agreed with our assessment that the AER code was inaccurate.
After its review of our analysis, the Agency completed an unscheduled redetermination on this case in May 2009. The recipient had not had a redetermination since his SSI payments were effectuated in 2001. During the redetermination process, SSA discovered that the recipient became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2003. As a citizen, the recipient was then eligible to receive SSI payments without time limitation, meeting all other eligibility factors. Although the recipient’s SSR contained inaccurate alien information that made it appear he received SSI payments for which he was not eligible, the recipient actually had attained U.S. citizenship status before the 7-year expiration on SSI payments to non-citizens. Accordingly, the recipient did not receive any improper payments even though the AER coding was inaccurate.
We identified two cases where non-citizens had the appropriate AER codes, but they still received payments beyond their period of eligibility. We were able to identify the cause of the error in the first case, but were not able to identify the cause in the second case. We conferred with SSA staff on the second case, but the staff was unable to determine the cause of the improper payment at the time of our review. The details of each case are explained below.
• The first recipient’s SSI payments should have ceased in December 2006 because she attained alien status in November 1999. She continued to receive SSI payments until February 2007—2 months beyond the 7 year limit—resulting in $727 in improper payments. According to SSA, in December 2006, the DABA system was not programmed to select alien records for termination. Therefore, this recipient was not selected for termination when her SSI eligibility expired in December 2006. SSA resolved the system issue and reported this situation had not recurred.
• The second recipient’s SSI payments should have ceased in July 2006 because he attained alien status in June 1999. His SSI payments stopped in August 2006 resulting in an overpayment of $698. We referred this case to SSA, but staff was unable to determine why the DABA system failed to timely terminate the SSI payments for this recipient.
Matters for Consideration
The DABA system uses the AER code in the SSR to select records of non-citizens for termination when their eligibility for SSI expires. Our work demonstrated that SSA’s DABA system generally selects the SSRs of non-citizens for termination in a timely manner. However, inaccurate AER codes led to a few improper payments.
To ensure only eligible non-citizens are receiving SSI payments, SSA staff should review the accuracy of a recipient’s AER code for those with an alien status attained date after August 22, 1996 and an AER code indicating their SSI payments are not time-limited when completing redeterminations. Generally, SSI payments with an alien status attained date after August 22, 1996 should be limited to a 7-year period. Also, to ensure accurate payment decisions are made, SSA should consider reinforcing the importance of entering accurate immigration status information into the SSR with its staff.
The SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act, effective October 1, 2008, increased the maximum number of years qualified non-citizens can receive benefits from 7 to 9. Additionally, the Act authorized a third year of payments if citizenship applications are pending or approved. As SSA is in the planning and analysis phase of the project to determine what changes to the DABA and other systems will be required as a result of the new legislation, we believe our review provides useful information for SSA to meet its objectives and minimize improper payments.
SSA has already corrected one of the five cases we identified, and the remaining
four cases have been referred to SSA for development. Particular attention should be given to the case where the cause of the improper payment was not identified. SSA should continue work to establish the cause and whether the payment error has implications beyond this one case in determining the SSI eligibility of non citizens.
APPENDIX A – Acronyms
APPENDIX B – Scope and Methodology
APPENDIX C - OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
AER Alien Eligibility Reason
DABA Database Analysis
MSSICS Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System
OIG Office of the Inspector General
Pub. L. No. Public Law Number
POMS Program Operations Manual System
SSA Social Security Administration
SSI Supplemental Security Income
SSR Supplemental Security Record
Scope and Methodology
To meet our objective, we:
• Reviewed applicable Federal laws and regulations as well as Social Security Administration (SSA) policies and procedures regarding non-citizens and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
• Obtained a data extract of 4,437 records from 1 segment of the Supplemental Security Record (SSR) containing refugees, asylees and other non citizens with a date of entry into the United States of August 2001 or earlier and a non terminated SSR. The details of the alien codes in our sample selection are shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Summary of Citizenship Alien Codes in Data Extract
Type of Alien Number of Records
Cuban/Haitian Entrant 356
Deportation Withheld 58
Amerasian Immigrant 9
• Created five categories for review from the population.
1) Randomly selected 50 records from the total population to determine alien eligibility and whether payments were terminated correctly and timely.
2) Identified 507 records from the total population with an entry date into the United States after August 1996 and randomly selected another 50 records to review from this group.
3) Analyzed Alien Eligibility Reason (AER) codes on sampled records from the original data extract. From the population, we identified 3,419 records with an AER code and selected 183 records to review. The details of the number of records for each AER code in our data extract and the number of records selected from each code are shown in Table 2.
Table 2: Details of Sample Records Reviewed With an AER Code
Description of AER Code Number of Records in Data Extract Per AER Code
1 Qualified non-citizen admitted to the United States as a refugee 640 50
2 Qualified non-citizen whose deportation has been withheld 9 9
3 Qualified non-citizen lawfully admitted for permanent residence with 40 work credits 1 1
4 Qualified non-citizen on active duty in the military or honorably discharged veterans 5 5
7 Grandfathered qualified alien indicator 2,696 50
8 Aged alien requiring a disability determination 50 50
9 Grandfathered nonqualified alien receiving SSI on 8/22/96 or earlier 18 18
Total 3,419 183
4) Identified 1,018 records without an AER code from the original data extract and selected 50 in current payment status to review.
5) Selected 50 records not in current payment status from the 1,018 records without an AER code to review.
In total, we reviewed 383 sample records. The details of our sample selection are shown in Table 3.
Table 3: Details of Sample Records Selected for Review
Category of Review Population Sample Size
Eligibility and Payment Expiration
Random Selection from Population 4,437 50
Post August 1996 Entry Date 507 50
Alien Eligibility Reason Codes
Blank AER Code in Current Pay (PSY C01) 637 50
Blank AER Code and PSY Other Than C01 381 50
Specific AER Codes 3,419 183
• Determined whether each recipient was eligible for an SSI payment based on the information recorded in SSA’s systems. Specifically, we reviewed the date of entry, alien code, SSI disability reason (aged, blind, disabled) and AER code posted on each record to determine whether the record supported continued eligibility for SSI payments. If the recipient filed for aged SSI payments, we determined whether the recipients were age 65 when they filed their application. If the recipient filed for disability payments, we determined whether disability information was recorded on the SSR.
• Determined whether each recipient’s payment eligibility expired. We reviewed each record to determine whether SSI payments to the recipients stopped before August 2008 for non-citizens subject to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. If payments continued after August 2008, we determined whether the recipients’ status changed, allowing for the continuation of payments. Specifically, we reviewed the payment status code 7 years and 1 month after the date of entry for each record in our sample with a date of entry into the United States of August 1996 or later.
• Determined whether SSA made the proper payment decision, based on the AER code, for records with payments beyond the 7 year time limit. We reviewed the SSR, electronic data in SSA’s Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System (MSSICS) or electronic data in other SSA systems for information to support the AER code recorded to determine whether the Agency made the proper payment decision.
• Reviewed the MSSICS code for records with no AER code to determine whether the record was established in MSSICS or outside MSSICS with a direct manual input.
• Referred questionable cases to SSA for review to confirm our conclusions and to determine the cause of any inaccurate records and/or improper payments.
We did not validate the authenticity of the documentation used by SSA as proof of refugee status. We determined the data used for our review were sufficiently reliable given our objective and their intended use and should not lead to incorrect or unintended conclusions.
We performed our review in the New York Audit Division from October 2008 through March 2009. The entities reviewed were the Offices of Retirement and Disability Policy, Income Security Programs, and Eligibility and Enumeration Policy, Eligibility and Evidence. We conducted our review in accordance with the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency’s Quality Standards for Inspections.
OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Tim Nee, Director, New York Audit Division
Neha Smith, Acting Audit Manager
In addition to those named above:
Susan Yuen, Program Analyst
For additional copies of this report, please visit our web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig or contact the Office of the Inspector General’s Public Affairs Staff Assistant at (410) 965-4518. Refer to Common Identification Number
Commissioner of Social Security
Office of Management and Budget, Income Maintenance Branch
Chairman and Ranking Member, Committee on Ways and Means
Chief of Staff, Committee on Ways and Means
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Social Security
Majority and Minority Staff Director, Subcommittee on Social Security
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations,
House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Finance
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Social Security Pensions and Family Policy
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Senate Special Committee on Aging
Social Security Advisory Board
Overview of the Office of the Inspector General
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is comprised of an Office of Audit (OA), Office of Investigations (OI), Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General (OCIG), Office of External Relations (OER), and Office of Technology and Resource Management (OTRM). To ensure compliance with policies and procedures, internal controls, and professional standards, the OIG also has a comprehensive Professional Responsibility and Quality Assurance program.
Office of Audit
OA conducts financial and performance audits of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) programs and operations and makes recommendations to ensure program objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently. Financial audits assess whether SSA’s financial statements fairly present SSA’s financial position, results of operations, and cash flow. Performance audits review the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of SSA’s programs and operations. OA also conducts short-term management reviews and program evaluations on issues of concern to SSA, Congress, and the general public.
Office of Investigations
OI conducts investigations related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA programs and operations. This includes wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors, third parties, or SSA employees performing their official duties. This office serves as liaison to the Department of Justice on all matters relating to the investigation of SSA programs and personnel. OI also conducts joint investigations with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General
OCIG provides independent legal advice and counsel to the IG on various matters, including statutes, regulations, legislation, and policy directives. OCIG also advises the IG on investigative procedures and techniques, as well as on legal implications and conclusions to be drawn from audit and investigative material. Also, OCIG administers the Civil Monetary Penalty program.
Office of External Relations
OER manages OIG’s external and public affairs programs, and serves as the principal advisor on news releases and in providing information to the various news reporting services. OER develops OIG’s media and public information policies, directs OIG’s external and public affairs programs, and serves as the primary contact for those seeking information about OIG. OER prepares OIG publications, speeches, and presentations to internal and external organizations, and responds to Congressional correspondence.
Office of Technology and Resource Management
OTRM supports OIG by providing information management and systems security. OTRM also coordinates OIG’s budget, procurement, telecommunications, facilities, and human resources. In addition, OTRM is the focal point for OIG’s strategic planning function, and the development and monitoring of performance measures. In addition, OTRM receives and assigns for action allegations of criminal and administrative violations of Social Security laws, identifies fugitives receiving benefit payments from SSA, and provides technological assistance to investigations.