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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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jnel713 April 15 2014 at 11:08 AM

I had a patient who works in the SS office tell me that foreigners coming to the US, who have never worked a day in our country, who don't even speak English are eligible for our SS when entering the country.

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2 replies
nonyelu jnel713 April 15 2014 at 11:24 AM

Your patient may have worked for the SS department but is obviously clueless about what he is talking or he was just soothing your ego based on what he thinks your ideology is (anti government or anti safety net).

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3 replies
falls.vacuum jnel713 April 15 2014 at 11:36 AM

THERE IS A WHOLE NEW 150 MILLION DOLLAR COMMUNITY THAT SS BUILT IN TENNESSEE FOR REFUGEES FROM AFRICA , NEW HOMES , FREE HEALTH CARE , FOOD STAMP ETC. THE WORSE THING IS THE SAVAGES DON'T SPEAK A WORD OF ENGLISH , EXCEPT GIVE ME.

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Diana April 14 2014 at 11:58 PM

G HERES N IDEA Y NOT MAKE THE PERSON WHO WORKS @ THE SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE THAT FIGURED OUT THE AMOUNT OF THE PAYMENT IN THE 1ST PLACE PAY IT BACK. IT WAS THEIR MISTAKE ,TAKE THE $ OUT OF THEIR CHECK..N THEN AFTER ITS PAYED BACK FIRE THEM. APPARENTLY THEY CANT DO THEIR JOB RIGHT.

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acmeme April 15 2014 at 10:54 AM

Someone voted thoes guys in.

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stevebakerguitar April 14 2014 at 11:59 PM

If the government is overpaying it is there clairical error not the receptiant...... these errors should have a 90 day recheck limit deadline to determin falt to avoid penalty.... With couputer systems today only the us mail would cause issues.....

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mlcher April 14 2014 at 11:59 PM

THEY CAME AFTER ME FOR OVER PAYMENTS 10 YRS OR MORE AFTER MY HUSBAND DIED. HE DIED IN 1980. GOTME FOR CHILDREN A FEW TIMES AFTER THEY TURNED 18. ABOUT TIME THEY WOKE UP FOR US STUCK WITH IT. I AM 70 YRS OLD NOW. HOPEFULLY I WILL LIVE LONG ENOUGH FOR THE CHANGE. GLAD SOMEBODY WOKE UP.

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ltibbettsinc April 15 2014 at 12:01 AM

I don't know. but money was paid out of my tax money and was owed to be repaid. So I paid for them and that is not right. Other spending of the government is not the issue here. I worked hard to repay my school loans. why should others not have to pay their bills.

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June April 15 2014 at 12:02 AM

The honest tax paying citizen will sometimes be victimized by erroneous claims...and sometimes people who are genuinely owed money will get what is owed them. There should be a proper and
legal way for just settlement. And there probably is, why not publish it so that claims could be evaluated instead of assuming the worst.

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JAMES GUI April 15 2014 at 12:02 AM

$700M. That's about 10 minutes at the unrestrcted federal spending rate of multi-trillions each year.

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bmdevon April 15 2014 at 10:52 AM

What about survivor social security benefits you can not collect because you got remarried before age 60.

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1 April 15 2014 at 10:46 AM

Hell, you give away Americans money (The tax payer) to illegals and other who never put a dime into the program, sister isn't time to stop the madnes and get back to true values and respect the American. Stop giving OUR money away to illegals. Stop stop it.......!!!!!!! Wake up America they are spending your retirement money......!!!!!

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1 reply
acmeme 1 April 15 2014 at 10:59 AM

America is awake, but they make laws against the honost citizens.

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