Investigates

Cox Media Group, KFF Health News win Goldsmith Awards’ inaugural prize for government reporting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax Investigates, investigative teams from our parent company Cox Media Group (CMG), and KFF Health News received a 2024 Goldsmith Award Tuesday from The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School during the annual Goldsmith Awards ceremony.

CMG and KFF Health News were honored for their joint reporting titled “Overpayment Outrage.” The series exposed how the Social Security Administration (SSA) routinely sent overpayments to recipients that the SSA then clawed back by reducing or suspending monthly checks.

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“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 Goldsmith special citation for reporting on government, awarded for the first time this year, recognizes reporting that examines how government and public policy implementation works, including how and why it can fail and how it can most effectively and efficiently solve problems.

Investigative teams from CMG’s local television markets and its Washington News Bureau each contributed significantly to the reporting, collectively airing more than 100 news stories in 2023. The reporting partnership with KFF Health News, a nonprofit online platform that distributes content through media partners nationwide, helped elevate the impact of the investigation and reached millions of TV viewers and online readers.

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“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, leaving some people to lose their homes, cars, and savings,” said Drew Altman, President and Chief Executive Officer of KFF. “This is why KFF reports on systemic issues like this through its news service—to expose how people are affected by policy and challenges.”

The award came just two weeks after the new chief of the Social Security Administration testified before Congress about major policy changes to reduce overpayments and limit clawbacks that left so many people in dire financial straits.

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Testifying at two Senate hearings on March 20, Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley said he is taking several steps to address the problem. O’Malley said the agency will stop “that claw back cruelty” of intercepting 100% of a beneficiary’s monthly Social Security check if they fail to respond to a demand for repayment. Instead, the agency will withhold 10% of the recipient’s monthly benefits to recoup the debt. Additionally, on the question of who caused an overpayment — the beneficiary or someone at the agency — the burden of proof will shift from the beneficiary to the agency, O’Malley said.

Click here for comprehensive coverage of the SSA story and here to explore other important local and investigative reports that have protected thousands of consumers.

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