A Qualitative Study of Employment Experiences of DI Beneficiaries after Receipt of an Overpayment

DRC Working Paper Number: 2018-06
Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research
Dec 31, 2018
Authors
John Kregel

Key Findings:

  • Overpayment amounts ranged from a low of $392 to a high of $68,000. The mean overpayment was $13,448 with a median of $9,610.
  • Fifty-five percent of respondents had overpayments of $5,000 or more, with 25 percent receiving overpayments totaling over $10,000.
  • Over half of the respondents (51 percent) immediately terminated employment upon receipt of the notice. A large number of respondents reported that they were surprised that the overpayment occurred because they thought that they were following all the program rules. In most instances, they indicated that they were following the directions they received from Social Security employees.
  • About 10 percent of the sample indicated that they had anticipated receiving an overpayment.

The receipt of overpayments by large numbers of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries is a major concern for beneficiaries, Social Security, and Congress. This study examined the effect of overpayments on the employment retention of working Social Security beneficiaries. Some researchers have argued that moving into overpayment status may have a negative impact on beneficiaries' efforts to maintain employment, although little is known about the employment behaviors of beneficiaries who experience overpayments. This qualitative study consisted of structured interviews with 84 DI beneficiaries who had previously received a notice of overpayment and were now attempting to return to work or maintain employment. Experienced work incentive counselors who had direct knowledge of the beneficiaries’ situations conducted the interviews. Although the interviewees were not representative of all beneficiaries with overpayments, their experiences are nonetheless instructive about the types of experiences such beneficiaries encounter as they pursue return to work.

Overpayment amounts ranged from a low of $392 to a high of $68,000. The mean overpayment was $13,448 with a median of $9,610. Fifty-five percent of respondents had overpayments of $5,000 or more, with 25 percent receiving overpayments totaling over $10,000. Over half of the respondents (51 percent) immediately terminated employment upon receipt of the notice. A large number of respondents reported that they were surprised that the overpayment occurred because they thought that they were following all the program rules. In most instances, they indicated that they were following the directions they received from Social Security employees. About 10 percent of the sample indicated that they had anticipated receiving an overpayment. A significant percentage of the respondents failed to accurately report earnings as required of DI beneficiaries. Some beneficiaries were clearly unaware of their reporting responsibilities, whether because they did not receive accurate information or they misunderstood the information that they were given. Other beneficiaries were aware of their responsibilities, but were not able to complete the required reporting responsibilities.