Social Security Administration chief Andrew Saul testifies before Congress.

Social Security Administration chief Andrew Saul testifies before Congress. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Social Security Clears Way for Stimulus Checks After Accusations of Malfeasance

SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul argued that the agency was required to wait to provide payment files for beneficiaries because it received no appropriations to fund its work on stimulus payments in the most recent $1.8 trillion COVID-19 relief law.

The Treasury Department has touted the speed with which it began distributing the third round of stimulus payments approved as part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic disruption, but there is one group of Americans still waiting for their checks or debit cards: nearly 30 million Social Security beneficiaries.

As the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill made its way through Congress earlier this year, the IRS sought to prepare to get payments out the door quickly. As part of that prep work, the agency asked the Social Security Administration to send payment files on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries in February.

But two weeks after the bill was signed into law and a week or more since many other Americans received their $1,400 per person—up to $75,000 for individual earners and $150,000 for two-income households—the Social Security Administration finally provided the data on Thursday morning, following pressure from lawmakers.

House Democrats accused Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black, both holdovers from the Trump administration, of slow-walking the process.

“The Social Security Administration has notified us that at 8:48 this morning, the agency has transmitted the necessary payment files to the IRS that have been blocking the sending of stimulus payments to nearly 30 million Americans,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and his subcommittee chairmen in a statement. “We are gratified that the SSA leadership finally recognized the urgency of the moment and acted swiftly on our ultimatum . . . The delays imposed by Commissioner Saul defied congressional intent and imposed needless anxiety and pain on taxpayers.”

Officials at Social Security Works, a liberal advocacy group focused on preserving the Social Security system, suggested Saul and Black intentionally delayed the issuance of stimulus payments in a way that they did not when two other rounds of checks went out during the Trump administration. The group reiterated its demand that the Biden administration fire both Saul and Black.

“A full month ago, the IRS asked the Social Security Administration for the necessary data to send COVID relief checks to Social Security beneficiaries,” said executive director Alex Lawson. “Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy David Black have failed to supply the data. As a result, nearly 30 million seniors and people with disabilities—who are among those hit hardest by COVID—still haven’t received their relief checks.”

In a statement, Saul put the blame on Congress for not including direct appropriations to the agency to carry out its duties in preparing stimulus payments for Social Security beneficiaries as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, and said the agency kept congressional staffers “apprised” of their efforts.

“SSA discussed with Treasury and IRS, both before passage and after enactment of the ARP Act, that the Social Security Act does not allow the agency to use our administrative appropriation to conduct work on any non-mission provision or program,” Saul said. “Accordingly, we were not authorized to substantively engage Treasury or IRS prior to the ARP’s passage. Instead, upon passage, we were required to pursue a reimbursable agreement with IRS because we received no direct appropriation through the ARP Act . . . In short, Social Security employees have literally worked day and night with IRS staff to ensure that the electronic files of Social Security and SSI recipients are complete, accurate and ready to be used to issue payments.”

The Social Security Administration did not immediately respond to questions about whether it used the entirety of the $38 million appropriated for the second round of stimulus payments, which was authorized for use until Sept. 30, 2021.