A bipartisan quartet of United States senators started what we at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Economic Policy Project hope is a trend: they have authored a piece of simple, effective, and goal-oriented legislation that would save the federal government money that is currently being wasted. In particular, the senators’ legislation would stop abuse of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Disability Insurance (DI) programs.
More than 117,000 individuals received more than $850 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 alone, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), by receiving payments from both UI and DI in the same time period. Such “overlapping” highlights the difficulty for the federal government in preventing this kind of practice.
The bill introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Angus King (I-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) requires the Social Security Administration to suspend DI payments during any month in which a recipient also collects UI benefits.
The legislation also allows the Social Security Administration to make information-sharing agreements with states and agencies that administer unemployment compensation in order to catch individuals who overlap on the payments.
The bill follows closely the recommendations outlined by Sen. Coburn in his 2011 “Back in Black” proposal on fiscal reform and President Obama’s FY 2014 budget submission.
What makes this legislation promising is that it is specific in its target, offers a clear-cut solution to an obvious abuse, and can be endorsed by almost the entire political spectrum. Legislation of this nature has a chance to pass Congress. It might be signed into law by President Obama. A small step forward in intelligent budgeting would then occur.
We encourage the four senators to dig further into both Sen. Coburn’s plan, President Obama’s budget, and the various recommendations over the years by GAO and the Congressional Budget Office for more examples of obvious waste, fraud and abuse. Waiting for some “Grand Bargain,” but failing to take small but useful fiscally prudent steps now, seems a bad strategy.