Social Security Administration Still Collecting Debts from Children of Overpaid Recipients Despite Promising to Stop

Thursday, December 18, 2014
Carolyn Colvin (photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) said earlier this year that it was going to stop harassing the survivors of those it said had been overpaid benefits sometimes decades ago. But officials either changed their minds or haven’t been communicating with one another within the agency.


The agency said in April it would stop the practice following an investigation published by The Washington Post, which found the Department of the Treasury had confiscated $75 million in tax refunds due to about 400,000 Americans, because the SSA had requested it. Acting SSA commissioner Carolyn Colvin publicly said the collection efforts would end, but the collections have continued.


Some who were reimbursed for the refunds they never received have said the SSA turned around and came after them again for the overpayments. At least five of these individuals are now suing the agency to halt the practice once and for all.


SSA officials refused to speak directly to the Post for a recent story on the controversy. In an email to the newspaper, spokesman Mark Hinkle said the agency was reviewing the matter and couldn’t comment due to “pending litigation.”


The agency’s actions have stirred up members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.


“It is just plain wrong to hold these Americans responsible for decades-old mistakes made by the Social Security Administration or members of their family,” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) said in a letter to the agency. “These actions are not only at odds with your promise to end this practice, they run directly counter to the agency’s mission to promote the economic security of all Americans.”


Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Florida) also sent a letter to Colvin objecting to her agency’s actions and said he would introduce legislation barring the practice. “I just think legally that shouldn’t be a possibility,” he said, according to the Post.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Social Security Continuing To Pursue Claims Against Family Members For Old Debts (by Marc Fisher, Washington Post)

Lawmakers Blast Social Security For Targeting Family Members To Resolve Old Debts (by Josh Hicks, Washington Post)

Treasury Dept. Intercepts Tax Refunds to Collect Debts of Dead Parents (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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