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Social Security halts overpayment collections to evaluate program's fairness

Two senators named Barbara are reportedly responsible for prompting the Social Security Administration to put on hold a program designed to recoup Social Security overpayments. The program, which is authorized under a 2008 change to federal law, allows the agency to collect debts that are over 10 years old. While the program has helped the agency gain back some losses, it has also unfairly put some Americans in a difficult financial situation.

According to Senators Barbara Boxer and Barbara Mikulski, the program is unjust in its application to some, particularly to children who received overpayment through no fault or even knowledge of their own. This could include situations where a child received survivor benefits sent to a surviving parent or guardian. It could also involve situations where a disabled child qualified for benefits, later improved, and was overpaid as a result. The senators argue that in situations like this, it is unfair to penalize people years after the fact. 

In the majority of cases, the Social Security Administration recoups overpayments by seizing federal tax refunds. The agency has been able to collect a total of $55 million primarily by this means.

It will be interesting to see whether—and if so, how—the Social Security Administration tweaks its approach to overpayments in response to complaints. As it is, the Social Security Administration claims that it does not collect on old debts that were incurred prior to the individual turning 18, and that it reserves the right to waive overpayment collection.

Those who have questions about overpayment collection should contact their local Social Security Administration office or speak with an experienced SSDI attorney. 

Source: ABC News, “People With Old Social Security Debts Get Reprieve,” Stephen Ohlemacher, April 15, 2014. 

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