Massive backlog in disability reviews

Follow up to FOX 11 Investigates Social Security fraud
Follow up to FOX 11 Investigates Social Security fraud

FOX 11 Investigates is looking into why the government says it doesn't have the resources to fully investigate Social Security fraud.

FOX 11 has reported on the case of James Mereness of New London. Mereness is serving 10 months in federal prison after being convicted of Social Security fraud.

Federal court records show Mereness collected $41,868 in benefits intended for his son. Mereness had claimed his son lived with him but the child lived in another city with his mother, Mereness' ex-wife Carol Heinz.

"I couldn't believe that a dad would do that to his own child," Heinz said.

When Mereness applied for the benefits for his son, the Social Security Administration never checked into his son's living arrangements. In fact, it took the government three years to find out what Mereness was doing.

Andrew Cannarsa from the Office of the Inspector General in Baltimore, Maryland says staffing is one reason investigations may take a long time.

"It is a large workload for (the Social Security Administration) to try to verify everything an individual says about their lifestyle and living situations," Cannarsa said.

FOX 11 wanted someone from the Social Security Administration to explain what happened in the Mereness case, but spokesman Doug Nguyen from the agency's Chicago office refused to talk with us saying, "We don't do on-air interviews."

In an email, Nguyen says the agency needs more resources. From 2011 through 2013, the agency "...lost nearly 11,000 employees..." because of federal budget cuts. There is a proposal in Washington to add more funding to the agency so it can conduct more "Continuing Disability Reviews." Nguyen says every dollar invested in those reviews saves $9.

According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General, there is a backlog of 1.3 million cases that need to be reviewed. Last year, the Social Security Administration planned to review 650,000 cases. But it only completed 428,568 reviews because of the budget.

"We're reaching the point where we need to have a major house cleaning," said Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac.

Petri says it only makes sense to invest more resources on the front end so fraud can be prevented.

"I think investing now, not just to save dollars in the short term but to have a system with integrity is important," Petri said. "And if your figures are accurate that there's a million some review backlog, no business should have that kind of backlog.