U.S. Directly Deposited Welfare Payments to Person Using ATM—In Vietnam

By Matt Cover | October 18, 2012 | 10:59am EDT

La Thanh Street in Hanoi, during rush hour, on May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

(CNSNews.com) – The federal government in 2011 directly deposited $5,262 in improper welfare payments into the bank account of a foreign-born U.S. citizen who was living in Hanoi, Vietnam--and who withdrew the funds via an ATM.

The improper Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits were discovered when the inspector general of the Social Security Administration (SSA) audited a sample of 250 SSI recipients who were foreign born citizens. The IG published the results of the audit on Sept. 27.

The new audit was a follow-up to a study the IG did in 2008 that discovered that more than 40,000 people were collecting SSI welfare benefits via foreign ATM machines.

“The SSI program, which went into effect in 1974, is a means-tested program that provides cash payments assuring a minimum income for aged, blind or disabled individuals who have very limited income and assets,” says the Congressional Research Service. SSI “is funded through general revenues—not payroll taxes.”

Under federal law, if an SSI recipient lives outside the U.S. for more than 30 days at a time, they become ineligible for SSI benefits.

In 2008, the Social Security IG conducted an initial study of people living in foreign countries who improperly collected direct-deposit SSI welfare payments via foreign ATMs. From a sample of 250 people at that time, the IG estimated that the government had made about $226.2 million in overpayments to 40,560 living outside the United States.

Using its new sample of 250 foreign-born citizens receiving SSI benefits, the IG was unable to make a new estimate of the total number of people still drawing U.S. welfare benefits via foreign ATM machines.

However, the IG did find that the government had paid $18,828 in improper benefits via direct deposits into the bank accounts of three foreign-born people living in foreign countries. These included one who used an ATM in Hanoi, Vietnam, who took $5,262 from the U.S. government; a second who used an ATM in Mexico, who took $3,394; and a third who also used an ATM in Mexico, who took $10,172.

The IG did say its new audit discovered that as of February 2011 the U.S. government was directly depositing SSI welfare benefits into the bank accounts of 1.1 million people who were “foreign-born citizens.”

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