oversight

Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts

Published by the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General on 2021-03-26.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

            Audit Report




Achieving a Better Life Experience
            Accounts




      A-02-18-50357 | March 2021
MEMORANDUM


Date:   March 26, 2021                                                   Refer To:

To:     The Commissioner
From:   Inspector General
Subject: Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)


        The attached final report presents the results of the Office of Audit’s review. The objective was
        to determine whether Supplemental Security Income recipients used, and the Social Security
        Administration verified the values of, Achieving a Better Life Experience accounts.

        Please provide within 60 days a corrective action plan that addresses each recommendation. If
        you wish to discuss the final report, please call me or have your staff contact Michelle L.
        Anderson, Assistant Inspector General for Audit, at 410-965-9700.




                                                       Gail S. Ennis

        Attachment
Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts
A-02-18-50357

March 2021                                                                 Office of Audit Report Summary

Objective                                  Findings

Our objective was to determine             SSA created policies and trained its staff on verifying ABLE
whether Supplemental Security Income       accounts owned by SSI recipients or their deemors. In addition, the
(SSI) recipients used, and the Social      Agency took steps to inform the public about ABLE accounts’
Security Administration (SSA) verified     availability. As of the date of our audit, less than 1 percent of SSI
the values of, Achieving a Better Life     recipients had obtained ABLE accounts.
Experience (ABLE) accounts.
                                           We reviewed a sample of 50 of the 11,176 SSI recipients or
Background                                 deemors who had ABLE accounts in SSA’s records. Staff verified
                                           the monthly ABLE account balances during redeterminations for
The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a         32 of the cases but did not verify the balances before they
Better Life Experience Act of 2014         completed redeterminations in 10 cases. SSA had not completed a
(Act) established tax-advantaged           redetermination since it received data about the accounts in the
savings accounts that eligible             remaining eight cases.
individuals can use to pay for qualified
disability expenses. Per the law, States   Also, 3 of the 11,176 recipients or deemors appeared to have more
establish ABLE programs through            than 1 ABLE account in SSA records, and SSA did not count the
which eligible individuals can open        second account balances as resources, as policy requires. Including
ABLE accounts. Social Security             the second ABLE account balances as resources, the three
beneficiaries and SSI recipients may       recipients were over the resource limit for SSI eligibility for the
establish ABLE accounts if their           months they had two ABLE accounts listed, receiving $18,140 for
disability or blindness began before       which they were not eligible.
their 26th birthday. The Act allows
each individual to have one ABLE           We also reviewed 6,890 additional ABLE accounts States reported
account.                                   to SSA that were still pending initial processing by the Agency. As
                                           of the date of our audit, SSA had completed redeterminations for
To be eligible for SSI payments,           563 of the 6,890 cases. In 16 of the 563 cases, the ABLE account
individuals may not have countable         information remained in a pending status after SSA staff completed
resources over $2,000, and couples         redeterminations even though SSA’s system alert should have
may not have countable resources over      prevented staff from closing the redeterminations with the pending
$3,000. The Agency excludes up to          resources.
$100,000 of ABLE account balances
from recipients’ countable resources.      Recommendations
SSA staff should ensure SSA’s
systems include evidence of ABLE           We made five recommendations in our draft report focused on
accounts when SSI applicants,              improving SSA’s oversight of SSI recipients with ABLE accounts.
recipients, or deemors allege, or States   SSA disagreed with three of the recommendations. Based on
report, account ownership to SSA.          SSA’s comments, we revised one, and removed another,
Staff should also record, and determine    recommendation in the final version of this report. SSA disagreed
ABLE account balances’ impact on,          with our third recommendation, but we did not change it because
recipients’ countable resources and SSI    we continue to believe the system alert SSA has to address
eligibility during redeterminations.       unresolved State-reported ABLE data before closing
                                           redeterminations is not fully effective.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Objective ..........................................................................................................................................1
Background ......................................................................................................................................1
     Achieving a Better Life Experience Account ............................................................................1
     Achieving a Better Life Experience Program by State ..............................................................3
     The Social Security Administration’s Verification of Accounts ...............................................4
     Audit Population ........................................................................................................................6
Results of Review ............................................................................................................................6
     The Social Security Administration’s Implementation of the Act.............................................6
     Verification of Accounts ............................................................................................................7
     Recipient with Multiple Accounts .............................................................................................8
     Pending Accounts ......................................................................................................................9
     Disability Onset Dates for Recipients with Accounts..............................................................10
Conclusions ....................................................................................................................................11
Recommendations ..........................................................................................................................11
Agency Comments .........................................................................................................................11
OIG Response ................................................................................................................................11
                    – Scope and Methodology ..................................................................................... A-1
                    – Achieving a Better Life Experience Account Information for each State .......... B-1
                    – The Social Security Administration’s implementation of the Achieving a Better
                    Life Experience Act ................................................................................................ C-1
                    – Agency Comments .............................................................................................. D-1




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)
ABBREVIATIONS
ABLE                 Achieving a Better Life Experience

MSSICS               Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System

OIG                  Office of the Inspector General

POMS                 Program Operation Manual System

Pub. L. No.          Public Law Number

SSA                  Social Security Administration

SSI                  Supplemental Security Income

U.S.C.               United States Code




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)
OBJECTIVE
Our objective was to determine whether Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients used,
and the Social Security Administration (SSA) verified, the values of Achieving a Better Life
Experience (ABLE) accounts.

BACKGROUND
SSA administers the SSI program under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 1 The SSI program
provides monthly payments to individuals with limited income 2 and resources 3 who are aged,
blind, or disabled. 4

Achieving a Better Life Experience Account
The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 5 (Act) established ABLE
accounts, which are tax-advantaged savings accounts that eligible individuals can use to pay for
qualified disability expenses. 6 Per the law, States establish ABLE programs through which
eligible individuals can open ABLE accounts. Eligible individuals are the owners and
designated beneficiaries of their ABLE accounts. Individuals may establish ABLE accounts if
they are eligible for Social Security or SSI based on a disability or blindness that began before
their 26th birthday. Individuals who are not entitled to Social Security or SSI may establish




1
    Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 (govinfo.gov 2018).
2
  SSA counts an SSI recipient’s income on a monthly basis. Generally, the more income an individual receives, the
lower his/her payment will be. An individual who has too much income in a month is not eligible for SSI in that
month. Not all income counts in determining SSI eligibility and payment amount.
3
 To be eligible for SSI payments, individuals may not have countable resources over $2,000, and couples may not
have countable resources over $3,000.
4
    Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (govinfo.gov 2018); SSA, POMS, SI 00501.001, B.1 (January 18, 2005).
5
 Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, Pub. L. No. 113–295, § 128 Stat. 4056, p. 4056
(govinfo.gov 2014).
6
 SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, A (March 13, 2020). Qualified disability expenses are related to the blindness or
disability of the designated beneficiary and for the benefit of the designated beneficiary. These may include
education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology, personal support
services, health care expenses, financial management and administrative services and other expenses, which help
improve health, independence, and/or quality of life. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, B.8 (April 16, 2020).



Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                         1
ABLE accounts if they certify 7 to the Internal Revenue Service that they are blind or have a
medically determinable impairment that occurred before age 26. 8

The Act allows individuals to own one ABLE account at a time. 9 Individuals may briefly own
more than one account when they roll funds over from one account to another or transfer from
one State ABLE program to another. SSA excludes up to $100,000 of the balance of an ABLE
account from the designated beneficiary’s countable resources. 10 The Agency counts any
balance over $100,000 as the designated beneficiary’s resource. 11 Except in rollovers 12 or
program-to-program transfers, 13 SSA will count the balances in additional ABLE accounts as
countable resources. 14

When SSA staff initially determines or reviews SSI eligibility, they should verify the value of an
applicant or recipient’s monthly countable resources, 15 including ABLE account balances over
$100,000. To be eligible for SSI payments, individuals may not have countable resources over
$2,000, and couples may not have countable resources over $3,000.




7
 The individual, or the parent or guardian, can make the certification. Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life
Experience Act of 2014, Pub. L. No. 113–295, § 128 Stat. 4056, p. 4060 (govinfo.gov 2014).
8
  The individuals need to include a copy of their diagnosis relating to their impairments signed by a physician who is
legally authorized to practice medicine and surgery by the State in which he/she performs such function. Stephen
Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, Pub. L. No. 113–295, § 128 Stat. 4056, p. 4060
(govinfo.gov 2014).
9
 Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, Pub. L. No. 113–295, § 128 Stat. 4056, p. 4056
(govinfo.gov 2014).
10
  A countable resource is the value of any asset that meets the definition of a resource. This resource counts against
the applicable statutory limit for SSI payments. SSA, POMS, SI 01110.200 (March 18, 1993). If countable
resources do not exceed the applicable limit, they have no effect on the amount of SSI payments. If countable
resources exceed the limit, an individual is not eligible for any SSI payments. SSA, POMS, SI 01110.001, B.3
(July 1, 1990).
11
     SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, D.1 (March 13, 2020).
12
  A rollover is the contribution to an ABLE account of a designated beneficiary (or their family member) of all or a
portion of an amount withdrawn from the designated beneficiary’s ABLE account, provided the contribution is
made within 60 days of the date of withdrawal and no rollover has been made into an ABLE account of the
designated beneficiary within the prior 12 months. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, B.10 (April 16, 2020).
13
  A program-to-program transfer is the direct transfer of the entire balance of an ABLE account into an ABLE
account of the same designated beneficiary in which the first ABLE account is closed upon the transfer of the funds
or part or all of the balance to an ABLE account of an eligible individual who is a member of the family of the
designed beneficiary. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, B.7 (March 13, 2020).
14
     SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, A.1 (March 13, 2020).
15
   Staff should verify the value of liquid and non-liquid resources as of the first moment of any month for which they
must determine SSI eligibility unless a tolerance applies or specific instructions indicate that verification is not
required. SSA, POMS, SI 01140.010 (October 24, 2013).


Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                           2
Achieving a Better Life Experience Program by State
Any State can establish an ABLE program. 16 An eligible individual can open an ABLE account
through the ABLE program in any State that permits it. To date, 43 States and the District of
Columbia have launched ABLE programs. See Figure 1 and Appendix B for more information
on the State ABLE programs.

                      Figure 1: ABLE Program by State as of November 2020




Note: States in green have active ABLE programs that are available to both in- and out-of-State residents. States in
      gold have ABLE programs that are only available to in-State residents. States in gray do not offer ABLE
      programs. The data source is the National Association of State Treasurers.




16
   An ABLE program is established and maintained by a State (or State agency or instrumentality) through which
eligible individuals can open ABLE accounts. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, B.1 (March 13, 2020).


Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                        3
According to the National Association of State Treasurers, 17 as of June 30, 2020, there were
70,873 total ABLE accounts opened nationwide, with a total of $469.4 million invested, and an
average savings of $6,624 in each account. 18 Anyone can contribute 19 to an individual’s ABLE
account. In 2020, the annual ABLE account contribution limit was $15,000. The funds in an
ABLE account can accrue interest, earn dividends, or otherwise appreciate. 20

The Social Security Administration’s Verification of Accounts
SSI is a needs-based program. Staff must verify the value of the resources, including ABLE
accounts, owned by the recipient as of the first moment of a calendar month 21 to ensure the
recipient continues to be eligible, unless a tolerance applies or specific instructions indicate that
verification is not required. 22 To verify the account balances, staff can request evidence from the
recipients. If available evidence does not provide the information, staff can contact the
appropriate ABLE program to obtain it. Staff record the ABLE account balances on the ABLE
account page of the Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System (MSSICS).

The Act requires that any State that implements its own program submit ABLE account balance
data to SSA each month. 23 As of October 2020, SSA had ABLE data agreements 24 with
42 States and the District of Columbia that formalized the States’ submission of the monthly




17
   The National Association of State Treasurers provides advocacy and support that enables member States to pursue
and administer sound financial policies and programs that benefit the nation’s citizens. Membership comprises all
State treasurers or finance officials with comparable responsibilities from the United States, its commonwealths,
territories, and the District of Columbia, along with employees of these agencies. The private sector is represented
through the Corporate Affiliate Program that was established to build professional relationships and foster
cooperation between the public and private sectors.
 National Association of State Treasurers, ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience), nast.org (last visited
18

November 12, 2020).
19
  A payment made to an ABLE account constitutes a contribution. SSA excludes contributions to an ABLE
account from an SSI recipient’s income. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, C.1 (March 13, 2020).
20
  Earnings increase the ABLE account’s balance. SSA excludes these earnings from the income of the designated
beneficiary. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, C.2 (March 13, 2020).
21
     SSA, POMS, SI 01110.600, A (October 26, 1995).
 Staff should verify the value of all liquid resources if the alleged liquid resources total $400 or more. SSA,
22

POMS, SI 01140.010, B.1 (July 12, 2012).
23
  Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014, Pub. L. No. 113–295, § 128 Stat. 4056, p. 4059
(govinfo.gov 2014).
 SSA has data agreements with Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of
24

Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New
York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas,
Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.



Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                        4
ABLE account balance data. 25 SSA is negotiating data agreements with three additional States 26
and does not have agreements with five other States 27 because they do not plan to implement
ABLE programs.

When the States report ABLE account information, 28 SSA’s system attempts to match the name,
Social Security number, program State, and account number to an ABLE account already
recorded in MSSICS. When the system finds a match, it automatically posts the balance data to
the recipient’s ABLE Account page. Staff is not required to take any action because the State
reported the verified monthly balance.

State-reported ABLE account information that does not match an account in SSA’s systems is
recorded in the Pending ABLE Account page in MSSICS. SSA staff needs to determine whether
the information applies to the person for whom it was reported. SSA systems allow staff to
select one of four options when they process the State-reported data—update an ABLE account
already recorded in the system, add a new account and upload the data to it, reject the data, or
decide later what action to take. 29 If staff selects the final option, the account information
remains pending in SSA’s system and staff is required to resolve the pending ABLE account
information before it completes an initial claim or redetermination. 30 Once staff documents the
account information in MSSICS, subsequent reports received from the State that have matching
data automatically update the account balance information in the ABLE Account page. 31




25
  Per SSA, a State that does not have an active ABLE program may sign an ABLE account data agreement with the
Agency if it plans to implement an ABLE program. Maine signed a data-exchange agreement with SSA while it
was developing its ABLE program so it could immediately begin reporting new ABLE account data once it
implements the program. Conversely, Mississippi, which has an active ABLE program, has not signed an
agreement to share the ABLE data with SSA.
 As of October 2020, SSA was negotiating data agreements with Connecticut, Mississippi, and Hawaii.
26

Connecticut and Mississippi have established ABLE programs while Hawaii has not.
 As of October 2020, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin were not planning to implement
27

ABLE programs.
28
  Account data submitted by the States includes the account owner’s name, Social Security number, and date of
birth; the program State; account number; date the account opened; date the account closed; and name of the
signature authority. SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, E.4 (March 13, 2020).
29
   SSA stated staff may decide later what action to take, which allows it to not decide on the ABLE account’s
ownership at that time. Staff may select this option because they need to contact the recipient about the account
information reported by the States, or the recipient may be unable to confirm the information in the interview, and
staff need to record other information in MSSICS.
30
  SSA staff periodically completes redeterminations, which are reviews of recipients’ and their deemors’ non-
medical eligibility factors. These reviews determine whether recipients are still eligible for, and receiving, the
correct SSI payments. SSA, POMS, SI 02305.001, A (September 5, 2019).
31
     SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, E.4 (March 13, 2020).



Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                           5
For States that have not reached agreement to share ABLE data, the Agency relies on recipients
to report their ABLE account balances.

Audit Population
We identified 11,176 SSI recipients and deemors whose ABLE accounts SSA had verified and
recorded in MSSICS as of August 2019. 32 We reviewed 50 recipients’ records to determine
whether SSA had verified their ABLE account balances. We also identified 6,890 pending
ABLE accounts reported by States that SSA had not verified. We determined whether SSA had
the opportunity to verify those accounts during initial claims or redeterminations it completed
after receiving the States’ data.

RESULTS OF REVIEW
Less than 1 percent of the approximately 3 million SSI recipients eligible to open ABLE
accounts had ABLE accounts listed as a resource in SSA’s records. 33 The Agency did not
always verify recipients’ monthly ABLE account balances, as required.

The Social Security Administration’s Implementation of the Act
Since the Act was implemented, SSA has updated its policies and provided staff training on
processing cases that involve ABLE accounts. The Agency also used social media and its
communications channels 34 to inform both its staff and the public about ABLE accounts (refer to
Appendix C for more details).

SSA also participates in recurring Act implementation meetings convened by the National
Council on Disability. 35 The meetings bring Federal, State, and local agencies together with
external partners to share information and coordinate best practices for raising awareness about
ABLE accounts. The Agency also reported that it has partnered with the National Disability
Institute’s ABLE National Resource Center 36 and the National Association of State Treasurers to
help inform individuals about the availability of ABLE accounts. SSA also regularly responds to
questions about its ABLE account policy from members of these organizations.



32
     We identified 11,123 SSI recipients and 53 deemors.
33
     We identified these recipients based on information from the ABLE Account page of MSSICS as of August 2019.
34
   SSA used its official Website, publications, and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to contact its
audience about ABLE accounts.
35
  The National Council on Disability is an independent Federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and
other Federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities.
36
  The National Disability Institute is a national organization focused on the financial health and wellness of people
with disabilities. It manages the ABLE National Resource Center that provides information about Federal- and
State-related ABLE programs and activities.



Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                             6
While SSA took steps to inform the public about the availability of ABLE accounts, less than
1 percent of the SSI recipients who are eligible for ABLE accounts had opened one. For this
review, we did not determine why only a small percentage of SSI recipients have opened ABLE
accounts.

Verification of Accounts
We reviewed 50 of the 11,176 SSI recipients or deemors with ABLE accounts to determine
whether SSA verified all their monthly account balances during the recipients’ redeterminations.

      In 32 cases, SSA verified all monthly account balances up to the date of the recipients’
       redeterminations. 37
      In eight cases, SSA had not completed redeterminations 38 for the recipients since it received
       data about the accounts, so it had not had the opportunity to verify them.
      In 10 cases, staff had opportunities to verify all the monthly account balances during the
       recipients’ redeterminations but did not do so before they completed the redeterminations. 39
       Balances for months before the redeterminations were either not recorded or were recorded
       as alleged. 40 Recipients likely self-reported the alleged account balances because SSA
       systems automatically record the balance data of State-reported ABLE accounts to the
       recipients’ records each month. SSA should have identified the unrecorded or alleged
       balances during the redeterminations and verified them.

In response to our preliminary draft report, the Agency stated it has a tolerance in its policy for
self-reporting liquid resources, and ABLE account balances are included in the tolerance. If the
amount being self-reported is under the tolerance threshold, its policy does not require that staff
verify the amount. Additionally, States that have agreed to share ABLE data report the account
balances for all ABLE accounts in their programs to the Agency each month. Per SSA, its
systems match the State-reported data to an ABLE account already recorded in MSSICS and




37
  In 29 of the 32 cases, SSA verified all the monthly ABLE account balances since the ABLE accounts were first
posted in MSSICS. In the three remaining cases, the Agency verified all the monthly ABLE account balances up to
the month it completed the recipients’ redeterminations.
38
  There are two types of redeterminations. Scheduled redeterminations are selected and conducted at intervals that
vary depending on the likelihood of payment error. Unscheduled redeterminations are conducted based on a report
of change in a recipient’s circumstances that may affect eligibility and payment amounts. SSA, POMS, SI
02305.001, B (September 5, 2019).
39
     SSA verified the monthly ABLE account balances for 2 of the 10 cases after our review.
40
  In eight of these cases, SSA verified some, but not all, of the monthly balances before our review. In the two
remaining cases, the Agency did not verify any of the monthly balances.



Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                          7
automatically post the balance data to the recipient’s record. Staff is not required to take any
action. The Agency is also negotiating with States that have not agreed to share ABLE data. 41

We re-examined the 10 cases while considering the Agency’s response and found the ABLE
accounts were opened in States that had reached agreement to share ABLE data with SSA. 42
Although SSA has a system in place to record ABLE balances in its records, the balances in
these ABLE accounts were not recorded or were recorded as alleged values. Additionally, the
alleged balances in these accounts were over the tolerance limit. 43 Staff should have verified
these account balances before they completed redeterminations.

Recipient with Multiple Accounts
We reviewed the 11,176 SSI recipients or deemors with ABLE accounts to determine whether
any had more than 1 ABLE account recorded in MSSICS. 44 Per policy, SSA should count all
funds in additional ABLE accounts as a countable resource unless the recipient opened the
additional account for rollover or program-to-program transfer. 45 We found 53 recipients had
multiple ABLE accounts with different account numbers recorded in MSSICS, and the additional
accounts did not seem to be due to rollover or transfer periods.

SSA reviewed 15 of the 53 cases. Based on its review, SSA responded that the additional ABLE
accounts appeared to be the same account listed multiple times in its systems. Per SSA, it
appeared staff inadvertently added some account information using the wrong account numbers.
When SSA originally entered the ABLE account information into MSSICS, either the
applicant/beneficiary provided the incorrect account number or SSA entered the ABLE account
profile number as the account number. As a result, when the States reported monthly account
information for these cases, SSA staff added it as a new resource instead of merging it with the
ABLE account information already in MSSICS.




41
  Connecticut and Mississippi have an ABLE program but have not reached an agreement to share the data with
SSA. Hawaii has not implemented an ABLE program. Per SSA, a State that does not have an active ABLE
program may sign an ABLE account data agreement with the Agency if it plans to implement an ABLE program.
42
  Four of the 10 accounts were established in Ohio. The remaining six accounts were established in California,
Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Refer to Footnote 24 for the States that have reached
agreement to share ABLE data with SSA.
 Staff should verify the value of all liquid resources if the alleged liquid resources total $400 or more. SSA,
43

POMS, SI 01140.010, B.1 (July 12, 2012).
44
   In 52 of the 53 cases, staff recorded 2 ABLE accounts in MSSICS for the same recipient. In the remaining case,
staff recorded four ABLE accounts for the recipient.
45
     SSA, POMS, SI 01130.740, A.1 (March 13, 2020).



Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                         8
We re-examined the 53 cases taking into account SSA’s explanation and agreed that, in 50 of the
53 cases, there was enough similar information to conclude the multiple listings were likely for
the same accounts. However, in 3 of the 53 cases, SSA staff had previously verified balances for
the multiple ABLE accounts, which had different start dates and monthly balances.

Given the different account balances, it appears these three recipients have multiple ABLE
accounts, and SSA did not count the second account balances as resources. Including the second
ABLE account balances as resources, the three recipients were over the resource limit for SSI
eligibility for the months they had two ABLE accounts listed and therefore received $18,140 46
for which they were not eligible.

Pending Accounts
We identified 6,890 ABLE accounts reported by the States that SSA had not verified as of
August 2019. SSA systems did not match these State-reported ABLE accounts to ABLE
accounts already recorded in MSSICS. The information was recorded in the pending ABLE
account page of the system where it remains until staff uses it to update an ABLE account
already recorded in the system, add a new ABLE account and upload the data to it, or reject the
data. SSA policy requires that staff resolve the State-reported ABLE account information before
they complete an initial claim or redetermination. For 6,327 of these accounts, SSA had not
completed initial claims or selected these cases for redeterminations since the States initially
reported the ABLE account balances.

SSA completed initial claims or redeterminations after the States first reported ABLE balances
for the remaining 563 cases. Before we began this review, the Agency informed us that States
had begun reporting the ABLE account balances the first month an ABLE account balance was
recorded in the Pending ABLE Account page in MSSICS. Based on this timeline, for 77 of the
563 cases, the State-reported ABLE account information remained in the pending ABLE account
page after the initial claims or redeterminations were completed. 47

Staff was able to close the initial claims or redeterminations without accepting or rejecting the
State-reported ABLE account information. SSA’s policy does not require that management
review initial claims or redeterminations to ensure staff properly verified all resources before
completing them. 48 Also, SSA systems do not alert management when initial claims or
redeterminations are closed before staff resolve State-reported ABLE account information.
However, in commenting on our preliminary draft report, the Agency stated its system requires
that staff resolve State-reported ABLE account information before completing an initial claim or


46
  In one of the three cases, the recipient did not receive SSI payments during the months she owned multiple ABLE
accounts because her income was over the SSI limit. In another case, SSA improperly paid the recipient $7,493
from June 2019 to May 2020 because it did not count the second ABLE account balance as a resource. In the third
case, SSA improperly paid the recipient $10,647 in February 2018 and from July 2018 to July 2019 because it did
not count the second ABLE account balance as a resource.
47
     We reviewed the 77 cases in May 2020.
48
     The Office of Quality Review reviews a sample of closed redeterminations to ensure payment accuracy.


Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                     9
redetermination. If staff does not resolve the pending ABLE account information, the system
will generate an alert that prevents staff from completing the redetermination.

The Agency reviewed the 77 cases and stated, in most of the cases, either the State began
reporting the ABLE account information after staff completed initial claims or redeterminations
or staff resolved the pending ABLE accounts during initial claims or redeterminations. Per SSA,
for these cases, States began reporting the ABLE account balances after the first month a balance
appeared on the Pending ABLE Account page in SSA’s systems, which was contrary to what
SSA had initially told us. SSA further stated that, in a few cases, its system alert did not work
properly, which enabled staff to complete the initial claims or redeterminations without resolving
the State-reported ABLE account information.

After it reviewed the 77 cases, SSA provided the actual time and date the State began reporting
the data for these cases; these data were not included in MSSICS. We re-examined the 77 cases
taking into account the Agency’s explanation and additional data and determined the following.

    In 61 cases, the State began reporting the ABLE account information after staff completed
     redeterminations. SSA policy does not require that staff verify this information until the next
     redeterminations.

    In the remaining 16 cases, staff was able to close the initial claims or redetermination without
     accepting or rejecting the State-reported ABLE information despite the alerts generated in
     SSA systems. The account information was pending verification in the pending ABLE
     account page from 10 to 28 months, with an average pending time of 21 months.

Disability Onset Dates for Recipients with Accounts
All State ABLE account applications require that applicants certify they receive Social Security
or SSI disability benefits based on a disability that began before their 26th birthday or they have a
signed disability diagnosis from a licensed physician certifying they have a disability that began
before their 26th birthday. State ABLE programs do not require that applicants provide proof
that their disabilities began before their 26th birthday when they apply for ABLE accounts. 49

When determining SSI eligibility, SSA determines, in part, applicants’ ages and their disability
onset dates. While SSA has information that could be useful in determining ABLE account
eligibility, the Agency reported to us that it is not authorized to share this information with State
ABLE programs. Also, SSA reported it was not responsible for determining ABLE account
eligibility; the States are responsible for determining whether ABLE account applicants meet the
eligibility requirements for their ABLE programs.




49
  The States require that these applicants possess the physicians’ documents but do not require the document as part
of the ABLE account application. Only Michigan and Texas require that the applicants provide the physician’s
name and address as well as the date of disability diagnosis on the application.


Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                                       10
We identified 1,004 (9 percent) of the 11,176 SSI recipients with ABLE accounts whose
disability onset dates in SSA’s records occurred after their 26th birthdays. If SSI recipients own
ABLE accounts for which they are not eligible, SSA may be excluding resources in those
accounts that it should not exclude when determining SSI eligibility.

CONCLUSIONS
While the Agency took steps to inform the public about ABLE accounts, very few recipients
have obtained ABLE accounts. For the recipients or deemors who own ABLE accounts, we
believe the Agency could improve its verification of their monthly ABLE account balances.

RECOMMENDATIONS
We recommended SSA:

1. Determine whether its outreach efforts efficiently and effectively had the desired impact of
   informing SSI recipients about the availability of ABLE accounts.

2. Review the 53 cases with multiple ABLE accounts in MSSICS, correct any inaccurate
   account information in the records, and determine whether any ABLE account balances are
   countable resources.

3. Ensure the full effectiveness of the system alert that requires staff to resolve State-reported
   ABLE account information before completing redeterminations for recipients who own
   ABLE accounts.

4. Issue an Administrative Message to remind staff to review and rectify ABLE account
   information reported by States that conflicts with account information already posted in SSA
   records to avoid multiple postings of the same ABLE accounts and to ensure staff properly
   account for resources in all ABLE accounts owned by recipients.

AGENCY COMMENTS
SSA disagreed with the first, third, and fifth recommendations in our draft report, while agreeing
with our second and fourth recommendations. See Appendix D.

OIG RESPONSE
Our first draft recommendation read that SSA should determine why most SSI recipients who are
qualified for ABLE accounts have not obtained them. In disagreeing with the recommendation,
SSA concluded States were generally responsible for determining ABLE eligibility, not SSA.
Still, SSA undertook numerous outreach efforts to inform the public about ABLE accounts (refer
to Appendix C for more details). SSA’s efforts expended taxpayer funds, and, as stewards of
those funds, SSA should ensure it used those funds efficiently and effectively, having the desired
effect of informing SSI recipients of the availability of ABLE accounts. Accordingly, we have


Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                          11
reworded our first recommendation to clarify the actions SSA needs to take to ensure its outreach
efforts efficiently and effectively used taxpayers’ funds.

In disagreeing with our third recommendation, SSA stated its system functioned properly. Per
our analysis, staff closed some redeterminations without accepting or rejecting State-reported
ABLE information despite SSA’s systems generating the alerts. We do not believe an alert is
fully effective if it continues to allow staff to close redeterminations without accepting or
rejecting the ABLE information. To be an effective control, the alert should prevent the error it
was created to address. SSA needs to have fully effective controls in place to ensure staff
properly processes ABLE data, which is needed to effectively complete redeterminations.

The fifth recommendation in our draft report asked SSA to determine, during redeterminations,
whether ABLE account balances owned by recipients whose disability onset dates in SSA’s
records occurred after their 26th birthday should be excluded from the countable resources used
to determine their SSI eligibility. In disagreeing with this recommendation, SSA stated it does
not have the authority to make independent findings of an individual’s ABLE eligibility or an
ABLE account’s validity. We continue to be concerned that the disability onset dates recorded
in SSA’s systems for over 9 percent of recipients with ABLE accounts were after their 26th
birthday, which calls into question whether they were eligible for the accounts. Realizing that
SSA does not have direct authority to make ABLE account eligibility decisions, we removed our
fifth recommendation. To continue addressing our concern, we plan to share our findings with
the Department of the Treasury, which does have legislative authority over ABLE accounts. We
will ask Treasury to determine whether further investigation of the recipients is warranted.




                                                   Michelle L. Anderson
                                                   Assistant Inspector General for Audit




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                     12
                                       APPENDICES




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)
                     – SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
To accomplish our objective, we:

   Reviewed pertinent sections of the Social Security Act and the Social Security
    Administration’s (SSA) regulations, rules, policies, and procedures.

   Identified 11,176 SSI recipients or deemors on a Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    recipient’s record who had Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts recorded in
    the ABLE Account page of the Modernized Supplemental Security Income Claims System
    (MSSICS) as of August 2019. We also identified 6,890 pending ABLE accounts reported by
    the States that, as of August 2019, SSA had not verified on the Pending ABLE account page
    in MSSICS.

   Selected a random sample of 50 of the 11,176 recipients or deemors to determine whether
    SSA had verified the monthly value of their ABLE accounts during the recipients’
    redeterminations.

   Reviewed the 50 recipients’ MSSICS screens and Claims File Records Management System
    records to determine whether they contained information staff used to verify the monthly
    ABLE account balances.

   Reviewed the ABLE account information for 53 of the 11,176 recipients who owned more
    than 1 ABLE account and determined any improper payments.

   Reviewed the Supplemental Security Records of the recipients or deemors to whom the State
    reported the 6,890 pending ABLE accounts that had not been verified by SSA to determine
    when the Agency most recently completed redeterminations.

We determined the computer-processed data were sufficiently reliable for our intended use. We
conducted tests to determine the completeness and accuracy of the data. These tests allowed us
to assess the reliability of the data and achieve our audit objective.

We conducted our audit work in the New York Audit Division between February and
November 2020. The entity audited was the Office of Operations under the Office of the Deputy
Commissioner for Operations.




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                   A-1
We assessed the significance of internal controls necessary to satisfy the audit objective. This
included an assessment of the five internal control components, including control environment,
risk assessment, control activities, information and communication, and monitoring. In addition,
we reviewed the principles of internal controls as associated with the audit objective. We
identified the following five components and seven principles as significant to the audit
objective.

   Component 1: Control Environment

       Principle 2: Exercise Oversight Responsibility

   Component 2: Risk Assessment

       Principle 7: Identify, Analyze, and Respond to Risks

   Component 3: Control Activities

       Principle 10: Design Control Activities

       Principle 12: Implement Control Activities

   Component 4: Information and Communication

       Principle 14: Communicate Internally

       Principle 15: Communicate Externally

   Component 5: Monitoring

       Principle 16: Perform Monitoring Activities

We conducted this performance audit in accordance with generally accepted government
auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and conduct the audit to obtain
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions
based on our audit objective. We believe the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for
our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                   A-2
                     – ACHIEVING A BETTER LIFE EXPERIENCE
                       ACCOUNT INFORMATION FOR EACH STATE
                                                                          Allow Out of State
          State                     Status                Account Limit
                                                                             Participants
        Alabama                   Active                      $400,000           Yes
         Alaska                   Active                      $400,000           Yes
         Arizona                  Active                      $482,000           No
        Arkansas                  Active                      $366,000           Yes
       California                 Active                      $529,000           Yes
        Colorado                  Active                      $400,000           Yes
      Connecticut                 Active                      $300,000           Yes
        Delaware                  Active                      $350,000           Yes
  District of Columbia            Active                      $500,000           Yes
         Florida                  Active                      $418,000           No
         Georgia                  Active                      $482,000           No
         Hawaii                  Not Active
          Idaho                  Not Active
         Illinois                 Active                      $450,000           Yes
         Indiana                  Active                      $450,000           Yes
           Iowa                   Active                      $420,000           Yes
         Kansas                   Active                      $402,000           Yes
        Kentucky                  Active                      $482,000           No
        Louisiana                 Active                      $500,000           No
          Maine                  Not Active
        Maryland                  Active                      $500,000           Yes
     Massachusetts                Active                      $400,000           Yes
        Michigan                  Active                      $500,000           Yes
       Minnesota                  Active                      $425,000           Yes
       Mississippi                Active                      $235,000           Yes
        Missouri                  Active                      $482,000           No
        Montana                   Active                      $396,000           Yes




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                B-1
                                                                          Allow Out of State
          State                     Status                Account Limit
                                                                             Participants
       Nebraska                   Active                      $400,000           Yes
        Nevada                    Active                      $370,000           Yes
    New Hampshire                 Active                      $482,000           No
      New Jersey                  Active                      $305,000           Yes
     New Mexico                   Active                      $482,000           No
      New York                    Active                      $520,000           No
    North Carolina                Active                      $450,000           Yes
     North Dakota                Not Active
         Ohio                     Active                      $482,000           Yes
      Oklahoma                    Active                      $482,000           No
        Oregon                    Active                      $400,000           Yes
     Pennsylvania                 Active                      $511,758           Yes
     Rhode Island                 Active                      $395,000           Yes
    South Carolina                Active                      $482,000           No
     South Dakota                Not Active
      Tennessee                   Active                      $350,000           No
        Texas                     Active                      $500,000           No
         Utah                    Not Active
       Vermont                    Active                      $482,000           No
       Virginia                   Active                      $500,000           Yes
      Washington                  Active                      $500,000           No
     West Virginia                Active                      $482,000           No
      Wisconsin                  Not Active
      Wyoming                     Active                      $482,000           No




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                B-2
                     – THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION’S
                        IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ACHIEVING A
                        B ETTER L IFE E XPERIENCE ACT
In response to the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, the Social Security
Administration (SSA) updated its policies and completed training for staff. It also informed the
public about ABLE accounts through its social media and its communication channels.

Policy Updates
   March 2016 – SSA provided guidelines in Program Operations Manual System (POMS) for
    field office staff on when to count ABLE account balances and distributions.
   November 2017 – SSA issued Administrative Message 17060 to inform staff about
    additional ABLE-related screens added to the Modernized Supplemental Security Claims
    System (MSSICS).
   March 2018 – SSA updated POMS with systems enhancements and technical information
    about ABLE-related screens added to MSSICS.
   January 2019 – SSA revised Administrative Message 17060 to inform staff about additional
    participating States and agencies that could authorize the ABLE accounts.
   April 2019 – SSA updated POMS to show the total annual contribution amount that an
    ABLE account can receive for 2019 and provided clarification regarding the definition of
    “completed gift.”
   April 2020 – SSA updated POMS to reflect recent tax reform legislation allowing the
    rollover of funds from a 529 plan to an ABLE account and contribution to the ABLE account
    in excess of the current annual limit of $15,000 for an employed beneficiary.

Training Updates
   January 21, 2015 – SSA notified staff about software changes resulting from the
    implementation of new legislation called the ABLE Act.
   March 22, 2016 – SSA provided video training to inform staff on amendments to the ABLE
    Act to eliminate the State residency requirement to open an ABLE account.
   October 10, 2017 – SSA provided video training to remind staff about ABLE accounts and
    provided instructions for processing SSI cases with ABLE accounts.
   August 2019 – SSA discussed ABLE accounts with staff during a comprehensive work
    incentive training.




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                    C-1
SSA stated it would implement additional training for field office and teleservice center
employees using

     Interactive Video Training;
     Video-on-Demand;
     Regional messages; and
     Internal meetings.

Communication Updates
     March 24, 2017 – SSA conducted Twitter Chat with ABLE Resource Center. As of
      June 2019, the Agency had 46,800 followers on Twitter.
     April 24, 2018 – SSA conducted Facebook live with America Saves. As of June 2019, the
      Agency had 223,567 followers on Facebook.
     April 17, 2019 – SSA included ABLE account information in its Universal PowerPoint
      presentation in English and Spanish for use by 133 Public Affairs Specialists.
     April 19, 2019 – SSA began airing SSTV Slide with ABLE Account information in
      1,230 Field Offices potentially reaching over 169,700 people daily when offices were open. 1
     July 11, 2019 – SSA posted guest blogs in the Social Security Matters from Michael Morris
      of the ABLE National Resource Center.
     October 24, 2019 – SSA provided remarks about its outreach activities during the National
      ABLE Resource Center’s webinar, Supporting Employment for Transition-Age Youth with
      Disabilities: How ABLE Accounts and SSA Work Incentive Can Help.
     December 19, 2019 – SSA posted guest blogs in the Social Security Matters from
      Michael Frerichs, Treasurer of the National Association of State Treasurers.
     SSA posted eight ABLE Account blogs on its Choose Work web site.
          December 19, 2016 – Getting to Know the ABLE Act
          March 13, 2017 – ABLE Programs Update
          March 20, 2017 – Join us for ABLE Events in March
          April 13, 2017 – You Asked, We Answer! Financial Independence and the ABLE Act
          October 23, 2017 – Money Mondays: Tips for Opening Your ABLE Account
          November 20, 2017 – ABLE Accounts: What You Should Know
          March 19, 2018 – What’s New for ABLE in 2018
          March 21, 2019 – Myths Busted: ABLE Accounts



1
    SSA field offices are currently closed due to COVID-19.


Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                     C-2
   SSA hosted four webinars on Achieving Financial Independence with Ticket to Work and an
    ABLE Account on
       March 22, 2017,
       October 25, 2017,
       March 21, 2018, and
       March 27, 2019.
   SSA updated the Agency’s publications, available online and in print, to include references
    to the ABLE Act and ABLE accounts. These publications include the following.
       Journey to Success: Employment Tools for Veterans with Disabilities, SSA Publication
        No. 05-10282 (December 2018).
       Journey to Success: Employment Tools for Veterans with Disabilities Part 5: Staying on
        Course to Financial Stability, SSA Publication No. 05-10287 (December 2018).
       Disability Benefits, SSA Publication No. 05-10029 (July 2019).
       What You Need to Know When You Get Social Security Disability Benefits, SSA
        Publication No. 05-10153 (July 2019).
       What You Need To Know About Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) When You
        Turn 18, SSA Publication No. 05-11005 (August 2019).
       What You Need to Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SSA
        Publication No. 05-11011 (August 2019).
       Understanding Supplemental Security Income, SSA Publication No. 17-008
        (2019 Edition).
       A Guide to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Groups and Organizations, SSA
        Publication No. 05-11015 (January 2020).
       The Red Book – A Guide to Work Incentives, SSA Publication No. 64-030 (January 2020)

SSA also updated the Supplemental Security Income page with a link on ABLE accounts and
added an ABLE Account information link to its SSI Benefits Webpage.




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                   C-3
                             – AGENCY COMMENTS




                                         SOCIAL SECURITY

MEMORANDUM


Date:   March 3, 2021                                                           Refer To: TQA-1

To:     Gail S. Ennis
        Inspector General




From:   Scott Frey
        Chief of Staff

Subject: Office of the Inspector General Draft Report, “Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts”
        (A-02-18-50357) -- INFORMATION

        Thank you for the opportunity to review the draft report. Please see our attached comments.

        Please let me know if we can be of further assistance. You may direct staff inquiries to
        Trae Sommer at (410) 965-9102.




        Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                    D-1
SSA COMMENTS ON THE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL DRAFT
REPORT “ACHIEVING A BETTER LIFE EXPERIENCE ACCOUNTS” (A-02-18-50357)


General Comments

We appreciate that the report acknowledges the wide range of communication activities we
continue to engage in to inform the public about Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE)
accounts. We also note that the report acknowledges our successful integration of this legislative
change into our Supplemental Security Income (SSI) initial claims and post-eligibility processes.
Although we have established data exchange agreements with most of the States that currently
operate ABLE programs, we continue to seek opportunities to reach agreements with the
remaining States.

Our responses to the recommendations are below.

Recommendation 1

Determine why most Supplemental Security Income recipients who are qualified for ABLE
accounts have not obtained them.

Response

We disagree. As noted in the report, we participated in a full range of outreach activities related
to ABLE accounts, and we continue to make information about these accounts available to the
public. However, ABLE is a voluntary program overseen by the Department of the Treasury
(Treasury). Eligibility for SSI is not a requirement for ownership of an ABLE account, and
ownership of an ABLE account is not a requirement for SSI eligibility. Additionally, according
to the regulations published by Treasury, the ABLE programs established by the States generally
have responsibility to determine who is and who is not eligible for an ABLE account; SSA has
no authority to determine an individual’s ABLE eligibility or an ABLE account’s validity.

Recommendation 2

Review the 53 cases with multiple ABLE accounts listed in Modernized Supplemental Security
Income Claims System, correct any inaccurate account information in the records, and determine
whether any ABLE account balances are countable resources.

Response

We agree.

Recommendation 3

Ensure the full effectiveness of the system alert that requires staff to resolve state-reported ABLE
account information before completing redeterminations for recipients who own ABLE accounts.

Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                     D-2
Response

We disagree. We reviewed the 77 cases that OIG questioned, and verified the system worked
effectively in each of the cases. Our analysis indicates that the system functioned properly based
on the conditions presented. We will continue to consider and investigate reports of system
issues related to ABLE accounts as they arise. However, absent additional evidence of an issue,
there is no further action for us to take.

Recommendation 4

Issue an Administrative Message to remind staff to review and rectify ABLE account
information reported by States that conflicts with account information already posted in SSA
records to avoid multiple postings of the same ABLE accounts and to ensure staff properly
account for resources in all ABLE accounts owned by recipients.

Response

We agree.

Recommendation 5

Determine during redeterminations whether ABLE account balances owned by recipients with
disability onset dates in SSA’s records that occurred after their 26th birthdays should be excluded
from the countable resources used to determine their SSI eligibility.

Response

We disagree. We do not have any authority to make independent findings of an individual’s
ABLE eligibility or an ABLE account’s validity. The regulations published by Treasury indicate
that Treasury generally delegated that responsibility to the ABLE programs established by the
States. We accept that an individual meets the requirements to establish an ABLE account if we
receive account information from a State. As the ABLE Act is currently written, we must
exclude the balance of an ABLE account from the resource limit for SSI recipients who own
ABLE accounts unless the balance exceeds $100,000.




Achieving a Better Life Experience Accounts (A-02-18-50357)                                     D-3
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