A House Ways and Means subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on how the Social Security Administration handles overpayments – benefits paid to persons who are later determined to be ineligible for them. The hearing comes only weeks after the government announced plans to evaluate how it handles overpayments.
Overpayments account for a minor portion of the Social Security Administration’s expenses, but they can account for a sizable portion of individual beneficiaries’ incomes. When the Social Security Administration tries to recoup these payments, they may amount thousands of dollars and span several years. A request for repayment might put recipients in debt, especially if they are unaware of the error and have already spent their funds.
Overpayments disproportionately affect those who can least afford them. Many are derived from the Supplemental Security Income program, which assists disabled and elderly people with little to no income and assets. Overpayments are also prevalent in the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which provides assistance to disabled individuals and their families.
According to Denise Hoffman, an economist who has extensively examined the program, and colleagues, 71 percent of SSDI users who continue to work after exhausting temporary work incentives received an overpayment, with the typical overpayment being $9,282.
However, many beneficiaries owe much more than than that. 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.
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 prize was approximately $1,500. Gonzalez took the matter to court, but she says they were hostile toward her and she eventually gave up.
I am one of the millions of people who have received an overpayment letter. In August, 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.
These errors are caused, at least in part, by the way the Social Security Administration evaluates eligibility. At present, the government determines an overpayment using a retroactive method that may include reviewing changes in a beneficiary’s circumstances dating back months or years. Behaviors that would be commended in most circumstances, such as an increase in savings for an SSI claimant or an increase in hours worked for an SSDI or SSI beneficiary, might lead to a finding that years of benefit payments were improper and must be reimbursed.
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-
Smalligan, Jack, and Chantel Boyens. “How Social Security Can Fix Its Overpayment Problem.” The Hill, The Hill, 18 Oct. 2023, thehill.com/opinion/finance/4260832-how-social-security-can-fix-its-overpayment-problem/amp/.