Audit Highlight: SSI Recipients Eligible for, or Receiving, Russian Pensions

Beyond the Numbers

Friday, February 15, 2013
Posted by: 
The Office of External Relations

Occasionally, our audit reports receive attention from the media and the U.S. Congress.  In July 2012, The Washington Post ran an article on our report Title II Deceased Beneficiaries Who Do Not Have Death Information on the Numident.  In January 2013, posted an article citing our report, Noncitizens Issued Multiple Social Security Numbers

Our reports show up on social media sites as well. In January 2013, the "Social Security News" blog posted an entry about our report, Direct Deposit Changes Initiated in Field Offices, which focused on SSA’s controls to combat direct deposit-related fraud. 

Recently, another audit came to the attention of the media:  Supplemental Security Income Recipients Eligible for, or Receiving, Russian Pensions, which we issued in December 2012.

An SSA employee noticed that that many SSI recipients who had emigrated from Russia might be eligible for Russian pensions. If they were eligible, or if they were receiving a pension but hadn’t told SSA about it, they might not be eligible for SSI payments.

SSI is a program of “last resort,” which means that if people are eligible for other forms of government assistance, they have to apply for those before they can receive SSI. And if they don’t apply for those other benefits, they aren’t eligible for SSI, even if they never receive the other benefits.

That SSA employee contacted us, and we began an audit to identify SSI recipients who may have been paid too much because they either were eligible for, but didn’t apply for, a Russian pension, or they received a Russian pension but didn’t report it to SSA.

We started by mailing letters to a random sample of 200 SSI recipients in this population, asking them about their eligibility for or receipt of Russian pensions. 

Some recipients who received our letters—or their family members or representatives—contacted us, expressing concerns that we were going to stop their SSI payments, or that we were violating their rights by contacting them. Many of the recipients were elderly and had left Russia many years before. Some of them explained that for various reasons, they did not wish to have any connection to Russia, even through a possible pension. And some of them were upset because they had not reported their pension to SSA and did not want this to affect their SSI payments. We even received inquiries from congressional staff on behalf of their constituents who had received these notices.

One or more of these individuals also contacted media outlets to express their concerns. In May 2012, a New York-based Russian-language newspaper, “В Новом Свете” (In The New World), ran an article, “What will happen to SSI?” in response to complaints about the OIG’s audit. The article explained that the OIG letter was perfectly legal, and that the recipients were required to respond to the questions.

Ultimately, we estimated in our report that 8,700 SSI recipients were eligible for, or were receiving, undisclosed Russian pensions. We estimated that 2,000 of the 8,700 were improperly paid about $45 million.

We referred our findings to SSA for any actions that the agency felt appropriate with regard to these cases. We also recommended that SSA remind staff to ask about foreign pensions when foreign-born individuals apply for SSI and when the agency conducts redeterminations of SSI eligibility.

You can view the full audit report at this link.