Pundits may have decided Newt Gingrich’s bid for president is on life-support. But the former U.S. House Speaker hasn’t gotten the memo.
Days after his campaign staff quit en masse, the Republican was back to skewering the media, liberals and government ineptitude on "The Neal Boortz Radio Show" on Atlanta’s AM 750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.
The June 15 interview made news because Gingrich railed against an ABC News investigation that called into question cash transactions between his charity and one of his for-profit companies.
But PolitiFact Georgia reporters took note because true to wonkish form, Gingrich peppered his arguments with factoids. He used this one to argue the government is inept:
"They reported this morning that every 10th dollar spent by the Social Security Administration on its program for the poor -- every 10th dollar -- is waste, or fraud. They can’t validate that the people should have gotten it. That’s about $8 billion a year, just in that one program," Gingrich told Boortz.
That sounds like one big, wasteful problem. Is Gingrich right?
Waste in entitlement programs has been much on Gingirch’s mind lately. Two days earlier during the Republican presidential primary debate in Manchester, N.H., he said "we think you can save $70 billion to $120 billion in Medicare and Medicaid annually by not paying crooks."
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column disputed the claim, noting that while there were about $70 million in "improper" payments in those programs, that doesn’t mean the money is going to "crooks."
The federal definition of "improper" includes non-criminal mistakes such as underpayment of benefits as well as fraud or cases of insufficient documentation.
Gingrich’s statement to Boortz was different. He didn’t mention "crooks" and used different figures. We took a look.
An Associated Press story posted Tuesday on AJC.com gave us the scoop.
Bear with us. The explanation involves an alphabet soup of government programs.
In July 2010, Congress passed legislation aiming to reduce improper payments to beneficiaries by $50 billion in 2012 for a variety of programs, including some run by the Social Security Administration.
The Social Security Administration, or SSA, administers two "High-Error Programs," programs that have a track record for making improper payments. One is the Supplemental Security Income program, or SSI. It helps the elderly, blind, and disabled by giving them cash for necessities such as food, clothing and housing.
Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., the SSA’s inspector general, testified June 14 before a joint subcommittee of the U.S. House Ways and Means committee to discuss the Administration’s progress.
O’Carroll said that overall, the SSA made an estimated $6.5 billion in overpayments and $1.5 billion in underpayments in fiscal year 2009, according to the AP article. This means it made $8 billion in improper payments.
SSI issued an estimated $4 billion in overpayments and $800 million in underpayments, the AP article said. Since SSI paid out $48.3 billion in payments, about 10 percent of SSI payments were improper.
This means that according to the AP, Gingrich was right about the overpayment rate for Social Security’s program for the poor.
But he was wrong about the amount of SSI’s improper payments. The overall amount of improper payments by the SSA is $8 billion, but Gingrich was talking about SSI, SSA’s program for the poor.
This initiative accounted for 60 percent of the Administration’s total improper payments -- $4.8 billion.
We checked the AP figures against a copy of O’Carroll’s statement and data from PaymentAccuracy.gov, the website of the federal payment accuracy improvement program. The AP’s numbers checked out.
So, as Gingrich said, "every tenth dollar" paid out by the Social Security Administration on its program for the poor is "waste, or fraud," or "they can’t validate that the people should have gotten it." But he’s wrong about the amount of improper payments.
Still, Gingrich’s broader point holds true. SSI makes billions of dollars in improper payments. Dollar-wise, they account for a majority of the Social Security Administration’s mistakes. We therefore give him a Mostly True.
"The Neal Boortz Radio Show", Newt Gingrich interview, June 15, 2011
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Newt Gingrich: Media elites out to ‘destroy’ him," June 15, 2011,
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Social Security makes $8B in improper payments," June 14, 2011
The Washington Post, "Fact-checking the GOP debate in New Hampshire," June 14, 2011
U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security and Subcommittee on Oversight, statement by Patrick P. O’Carroll, June 14, 2011
PaymentAccuracy.gov, High-Error Programs list, accessed June 15, 2011
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