Social Security Suspends Program To Collect Old Debts

The Social Security Administration has suspended a program which allowed to to seize thousadns of tax refunds in an effort to recoup previous over-payments made. They had previously identified about 400,000 individuals with old debts of approximately $714 million.

A 2008 change to the law allowed them to go back and collect monies owed beyond a previous ten-year limit.

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.

 Democratic Sens. Senators Barbara Boxer and Barbara Mikulski called the program “unjust.”

Today, Boxer issued the following 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.”

To date, the agency collected $55 million under the program.

The Social Security Administration said it is 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,” said Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin.

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.

Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle also issued an email stating, “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. 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.”


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