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Social Security halts effort to collect old debts

Social Security Medicare

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Social Security Administration is suspending a program in which thousands of people were having their tax refunds seized to recoup overpayments that happened more than a decade ago.

Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said Monday she has directed an immediate halt to the program while the agency does a review.

Social Security recipients and members of Congress complained that people were being forced to repay overpayments that were sometimes paid to their parents or guardians when they were children.

"While this policy of seizing tax refunds to repay decades-old Social Security overpayments might be allowed under the law, it is entirely unjust," Democratic Sens. Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in a letter to Colvin.

After Colvin's announcement, Boxer said in a statement: "I am grateful that the Social Security Administration has chosen not to penalize innocent Americans while the agency determines a fair path forward on how to handle past errors."

The Social Security Administration says it has identified about 400,000 people with old debts. They owe a total of $714 million.

So far, the agency says it has collected $55 million.

The program was authorized by a 2008 change in the law that allows Social Security and other federal agencies to use a Treasury program to seize federal payments to recoup debts that are more than 10 years old. Previously, there was a 10-year limit on using the program.

In most cases, the seizures are tax refunds.

Colvin said she was suspending the program "pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law to refer debt to the Treasury Department."

"If any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment," Colvin said.

The Washington Post first reported on the program.

There are several scenarios in which people may have received overpayments as children. For example, when a parent of a minor child dies, the child may be eligible for survivor's benefits, which are typically sent to the surviving parent or guardian.

If there was an overpayment made on behalf of the child, that child could be held liable years later, as an adult.

Also, if a child is disabled, he or she may receive overpayments. Those overpayments would typically be taken out of current payments, once they are discovered.

But if disability payments were discontinued because the child's condition improved, Social Security could try to recoup the overpayments years later.

"We want to assure the public that we do not seek restitution through tax refund offset in cases when the debt in question was established prior to the debtor turning 18 years of age," Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle said in an email. "Also, we do not use tax refund offset to collect the debt of a person's relative - we only use it to collect the overpaid benefits the person received for himself or herself."

Hinkle said the debt collection could be waived if the person is without fault and repayment would "deprive the person of income needed for ordinary living expenses or would be unfair for another reason."

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PAT DEEL April 14 2014 at 7:51 PM

Most of those demands for repayment most definitely WOULD make a hardship on those persons that it was applied to. If the govt. makes the goof, let the govt. take it from foreign aid......don't penalize people who had/have no way of knowing that they were receiving an overpayment. LEAVE OUR SOCIAL SECURITY ALONE!!!!!!

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1 reply
pattybabes143 PAT DEEL April 14 2014 at 8:11 PM

Our govt legally robs us of every penny they can get their hands on. I remember when the lottery was legalized. They said ALL the money was to go to education right? Why are our schools lacking in programs ,books equipment for students? WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING???? Ask our wonderful politicians who have cart blanche when there is money to be had. 40 or more politicians killed in a rush to get their hands on the cash.

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dewey00 April 14 2014 at 7:50 PM

Grabbing refunds I understand. But I'd like to see where in this bill it authorizes them to collect the money from the relatives of the people who received the money.

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1 reply
hotelsierraone dewey00 April 14 2014 at 7:55 PM

It says, only if they are "Heirs". That is standard Law principle since the begining of Democracy...

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1 reply
dewey00 hotelsierraone April 14 2014 at 8:21 PM

Really? Never knew that. Thanks for enlightening me.

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hman570 April 14 2014 at 7:49 PM

Cut off all minies leaving the United States, (then will wount have to borrow any) and work on building the United States rather then forgetting about us and worring about the rest of the world.

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beverly751 April 14 2014 at 7:53 PM

social security is important to the disabled, the elderly

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1 reply
pattybabes143 beverly751 April 14 2014 at 8:04 PM

By disabled, do you mean all the junkies & alcoholics who are collecting SSI benefits ? Getting food stamps & Medicaid too

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'57mad April 14 2014 at 7:49 PM

can we all say I feel a 75 year old Ponzi scheme rearing its ugly head........

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1 reply
filliperogers '57mad April 14 2014 at 8:05 PM

The ponzi scheme is solid its the governments peter beaters who insist on stealing it.

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sonlita April 14 2014 at 7:47 PM

This bill was a tag-on to another (farm?) bill and no one said no to it. Now, that regular folks are appalled and upset, Boxer and others are aghast? Phonies they all be. They allowed this in the first place.

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1 reply
raetalon sonlita April 14 2014 at 10:07 PM

That is what happens when no one bothers to read the bills that they vote for.

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PAINTMAN April 14 2014 at 7:47 PM

I wish these Government Officials would use that same principle while they are piling up debt for our childeren and grandchildren to pay for. Our children and Grandchildren are without fault.

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1 reply
hotelsierraone PAINTMAN April 14 2014 at 7:59 PM

Liberals do NOT know the word "DEBT" or "RESPONSIBLE"

Kiss America good bye. It's already too late.

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'57mad April 14 2014 at 7:47 PM

just wait until they tell you their under scrutiny and they cant give your your social security at all...............like they are millions of americans who were counting on their social security to retire on. while they keep collect their pay from your taxes to do so.....

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saehightimes April 14 2014 at 7:46 PM

Back off, Big Brother, and leave us alone. Suck up your own mistakes and give Social Security back to the private citizens like it use to be when it was successful and out of your hands.

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2 replies
PAT DEEL saehightimes April 14 2014 at 7:51 PM

I agree with you!!!

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falls.vacuum saehightimes April 15 2014 at 11:58 AM

IT HAS NEVER BEEN SUCCESSFUL , MORE LIKE A WINDFALL FOR OLD PEOPLE WHO PUT IN LIKE A DOLLAR A WEEK . SAD FOR THE YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ARE GETTING SCREWED RIGHT NOW.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
den April 14 2014 at 7:52 PM

why not get back the money other government agency borrowed and never paid back

Flag Reply +7 rate up
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