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Following Criticism, SSA Says It Gave IRS Pandemic Payment Info

By David van den Berg · March 25, 2021, 9:38 PM EDT

Following a demand from lawmakers, the head of the Social Security Administration announced Thursday the agency had sent needed information files to the Internal Revenue Service to enable the delivery of pandemic relief payments to federal beneficiaries.

Andrew Saul, the SSA commissioner, said his agency delivered production files to the IRS before 9 a.m. Thursday, more than a week faster than it had provided a similar file to the IRS during the first round of pandemic relief payments last year. Saul said the SSA sent initial test files to the IRS on Monday, and the IRS confirmed successful testing on Wednesday.

Saul's Thursday statement followed a demand sent Wednesday by a group of four House Ways and Means Committee Democrats, including Richard Neal, D-Mass., the committee's chairman. The lawmakers pressed the SSA to send the IRS payment files by Thursday for nearly 30 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients who hadn't yet received pandemic relief payments. The group said in a statement about their demand letter that it was inexplicable it hadn't happened yet.

Issuing the Wednesday demand with Neal were Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John Larson, D-Conn., and Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny Davis, D-Ill. On Thursday, the group issued a statement welcoming the news that the SSA had sent the IRS the information. The lawmakers said they were gratified "SSA leadership finally recognized the urgency of the moment and acted swiftly on our ultimatum."

"None of this would be possible without the hard work of SSA's dedicated public servants and leadership from the White House," the lawmakers said. "The delays imposed by Commissioner Saul defied congressional intent and imposed needless anxiety and pain on taxpayers."

Saul, however, said in his statement his agency wasn't authorized to work with the IRS or the U.S. Department of the Treasury on the issue before the enactment of the American Rescue Plan,  which called for the new round of payments. The Social Security Act bars the SSA from using its administrative appropriation to work on any non-mission provision or program, so when the pandemic law was passed, it had to pursue a reimbursable agreement with the IRS because the SSA didn't receive a direct appropriation in it, Saul said.

The SSA signed the reimbursable agreement and a memorandum of understanding with the IRS less than a week after the passage of the pandemic relief law, a process that often takes weeks or months, Saul said. He also said while the SSA was working through agreements with the IRS to fund its work supporting the provision of the payments, it was protecting the integrity of the payment program by updating files the IRS will use to send payments to beneficiaries.

"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," Saul said. "There is no one more committed to serving the public than the employees of this agency, and there should be no doubt whatsoever that they are striving each day to serve the vulnerable populations to which they have committed their careers. I find any insinuation to the contrary to be unacceptable."

President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan on March 11, which authorized a third round of economic impact payments of $1,400 for individuals and $2,400 for couples, with phaseouts for higher-income earners and additional funds for qualifying children.

The IRS didn't immediately respond to comment requests Thursday.

The agency said in a Wednesday statement it was working with the SSA, the Railroad Retirement Board, and Veterans Administration to get updated information for 2021 so federal beneficiaries can get the economic impact payments automatically.

--Additional reporting by Theresa Schliep. Editing by Neil Cohen.

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