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A Stronger Social Security

August 11, 2017

Social Security is a large portion of many Americans’ retirement incomes, and Congress is working on a number of solutions to strengthen the program and increase efficiency for beneficiaries.  

At the end of June, I joined Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson of Texas in introducing the Providing Choice for Social Security Retirees Act. This bill would provide Social Security Old-Age (OASI) beneficiaries the option to claim a portion of their delayed retirement credit in a one-time, partial lump sum.  

A modernized Social Security should allow seniors to make their own retirement decisions rather than pressure them to conform to a one-size-fits-all program. This additional option ensures seniors who choose to remain in the workforce beyond their full retirement age have greater flexibility to determine how they access their benefits. Workers have paid taxes into Social Security with the expectation their benefits will be there in retirement, and they should be able to choose the method of receiving these benefits which best suits their needs.

Another crucial part of strengthening Social Security is preventing fraud and abuse. I am a cosponsor of the Social Security Disability Insurance and Unemployment Benefits Double Dip Elimination Act to prevent beneficiaries from receiving Social Security disability benefits and unemployment benefits at the same time. This is an important step to preserve Social Security disability benefits for those who truly are unable to work.

Unfortunately, fraud committed by those entrusted to administer Social Security benefits is also a concern. One example made the headlines earlier this year when Social Security Administration (SSA) Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty and Kentucky disability lawyer Eric Conn pleaded guilty in a scam involving $550 million in fraudulent SSA disability claims. As a judge with the responsibility to decide disability claims on behalf of the SSA, Mr. Daugherty admitted to accepting more than $600,000 in cash in exchange for awarding benefits in more than 3,000 cases brought forth by Mr. Conn.

Despite his guilty plea, the SSA still did not have the authority to revoke Mr. Daugherty’s retirement benefits. Under current law, Mr. Daugherty could only lose these benefits if convicted of criminal offenses related to treason and espionage. To close this loophole, I cosponsored the Holding SSA Employees Accountable Act to prohibit SSA employees convicted of a felony related to their official job duties from receiving their federal retirement benefits.

Addressing Social Security fraud is not just about going after those who have broken the law but also protecting current and future beneficiaries. When benefits are paid to ineligible individuals, it reduces resources for those who truly need access to these benefits and frustrates taxpayers who are expected to foot the bill.

In addition to protecting Social Security funds from fraud, we are also working to ensure the safety of Americans’ personal information. Ten years ago, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo requiring all federal departments and agencies to eliminate the unnecessary use of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and look into alternative methods of identification. A report issued in July shows some progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go.

This is why I cosponsored legislation last Congress, which was signed into law, to remove SSNs from Medicare cards. On the Ways and Means Committee, we continue to work on ways to cut down on the use of SSNs in government and employer documentation.

We have a lot of important work to do to shore up Social Security and protect beneficiaries. By cutting down on fraud and providing more choices to retirees, we can create a stronger Social Security which better serves the American workforce.