Disability Benefits and Overpayment

CW: Poverty

Justina Worrell, 47, works part-time as a kitchen assistant in an Ohio nursing facility. She has cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability, and a cardiac condition. The condition required the placement of an artificial heart valve when she was 20.

A year ago, she was earning $862 per month and receiving around $1,065 in monthly Social Security disability benefits when she received a letter from the federal government. The Social Security Administration had been overpaying her and wanted the money back, according to the letter. It instructed her to mail the government a check or money order within 30 days. The amount Worrell owed was over $60,000.

Worrell is not alone. According to a report released by the SSA’s inspector general, the agency clawed back $4.7 billion in overpayments for the fiscal year 2022, while another $21.6 billion remained unpaid.

Jasmine Gonzalez of Jacksonville, FL owes $26,880.44. It happened 28 years ago, after she claimed her mother’s winning bingo prize because her mother did not have her Social Security card. The award was approximately $1,500. Gonzalez took the matter to court, but she says they were hostile toward her and she eventually gave up.

Overpayments may happen due to a Social Security error or as a result of beneficiaries failing to comply with requirements, whether deliberately or accidentally. Still, advocates say the system is largely to blame. The rules can be difficult to follow. Additionally asset limits for SSI beneficiaries have not been increased since 1989.

According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if resource asset limits had been adjusted for inflation since 1972, when the law first went into effect, they would be $9,929 for an individual and $14,893 for a couple in 2023 — more than six times what they are now.

I am one of the millions of people who have received an overpayment letter. Last month, I received a letter from The Social Security Administration. The letter informed me of an overpayment earlier this year.

However, the letter indicated that I had received the correct amount. Unfortunately, I still had to appeal their decision. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the Social Security Administration will begin deducting a set amount of money from my check every month.

Disability benefits need to provide a livable income for the millions of people who rely on them worldwide. Keeping disabled people in poverty is antiquated. Nobody should be forced to live in poverty.


Becker, Ben. “Action News Jax Investigates Uncovers Billions of Dollars in Social Security Overpayments.” Action News Jax, Cox Media Group, 15 Sept. 2023, http://www.actionnewsjax.com/news/investigates/5-action-news-jax-investigates-uncovers-billions-dollars-social-security-overpayments/AK2XN62C7ZF7VFP4YQDEFXYDNQ/?outputType=amp.

Fleischer, Jodie, and David Hilzenrath. “Social Security Overpays Billions to People, Many on Disability. Then It Demands the Money Back.” KFF Health News, KFF, 15 Sept. 2023, kffhealthnews.org/news/article/social-security-overpayments-investigation/.

Konish, Lorie. “Bipartisan Bill Aims to Update Rules for Federal Benefits for Elderly, Disabled.” CNBC, CNBC, 2 May 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/02/senate-bill-seeks-to-update-supplemental-security-income-asset-rules.html.

Romig , Kathleen, et al. “The Case for Updating SSI Asset Limits.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 25, July 2023, http://www.cbpp.org/research/social-security/the-case-for-updating-ssi-asset-limits?fbclid=IwAR0wZj-zM_VqbPoQ4RV3WZUbOBCKVbnxXlV9lJeWo4GLEVAx2EomA5klzoo_aem_AfEqv7yxyHvw-DLrwMkFZ4LovFDDWokEDXSN5qdX6LwdCd85JZbF0gQkswCdVv1LpVA.

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