News Release

KFF Health News and Cox Media Group’s Series on Social Security Overpayments Wins the Goldsmith Awards’ Inaugural Government Reporting Prize

KFF Health News and Cox Media Group Television Stations announced today that they received the 2024 Goldsmith Awards’ inaugural Government Reporting Prize for their joint reporting in the series “Overpayment Outrage,” which exposed how the Social Security Administration routinely reduced or suspended monthly checks to take back funds to pay off large debts that were often created by its own miscalculation of people’s benefits.

The investigation revealed that more than two million people each year are hit with overpayments, including those least able to repay the debt, such as individuals who are poor, old, disabled, blind or who suffer from a chronic illness.

The reporting triggered congressional hearings, a “top-to-bottom” review by Social Security officials and increased Senate oversight. Commissioner Martin O’Malley also recently announced sweeping policy changes to stop what he called “clawback cruelty” and “grave injustices.”

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School honored KFF Health News and Cox Media Group at the Goldsmith Awards ceremony yesterday with the new prize, which recognizes reporting on how government and public policy implementation works, including how and why it can fail and how it can most effectively and efficiently solve problems.

“This series exposed the significant impact of these mistakes on millions of people, including those who had little to no ability to pay back the government, forcing some people to lose their homes, cars and savings,” said KFF President and CEO Drew Altman, who is the founding Publisher of KFF Health News. “This is why KFF reports on systemic issues like this through our news service—to reveal how people are affected by policy. ”

“We’re honored to receive this prestigious award because it reflects CMG’s commitment to local news and investigative journalism,” said Marian Pittman, CMG’s President of Content. “The team’s relentless efforts to uncover the truth behind complex government policies and their implementation has resulted in tangible changes within the SSA and will directly benefit millions of people impacted by overpayments.”

The series was reported by David Hilzenrath and Fred Clasen-Kelly of KFF Health News and Jodie Fleischer of Cox Media Group. A list of additional contributors is available here.

More on “Overpayment Outrage”
Each year the Social Security Administration (SSA) issues billions of dollars in overpayments to recipients whose incomes or other qualifying criteria have changed. Under federal law, the SSA is required to demand repayment of this money, treating it as a debt to the federal government. These clawbacks can happen even decades after the initial overpayments.

In “Overpayment Outrage,” Cox Media Group and KFF Health News examined the overpayment issue and the impacts clawbacks have on vulnerable people. They found that overpayments happen due to rules that are complex and hard to follow, inadequate SSA staffing, outdated limits on assets and lagged or otherwise inaccurate data on income and other beneficiary information. The reporting also laid out potential solutions to address the legislative, funding, and process failures that cause this systemic problem.

About the Reporting Partnership
KFF Health News and Cox Media Group television stations used FOIA requests, reports by the inspector general and SSA and interviews with agency employees, advocates for the disabled and dozens of beneficiaries to piece together the story. What emerged was evidence of a systemic problem in which the SSA routinely reduces or halts monthly benefit checks to reclaim billions of dollars in payments it sent to beneficiaries then later said they should not have received.

After they published the series, hundreds of disability beneficiaries came forward with troubling accounts, including that the government sent them overpayment notices without explanation and threatened to cut off their main source of income with little warning. The agency has since restored benefits to several of the beneficiaries featured in the reporting.

About KFF and KFF Health News
KFF is a nonprofit health policy research, polling and news organization. Our mission is to serve as a nonpartisan source of information for policymakers, the media, the health policy community and the public. KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth and award-winning journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF. KFF Health News has been recognized repeatedly for its journalism, with awards honoring its investigative reports on the American health care system.

Other major KFF programs include Policy Analysis; KFF Polling and Survey Research; and KFF Social Impact Media, which conducts specialized public health information campaigns. A new program on Health Misinformation and Trust will be launched soon.

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The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.