Changes to how Social Security Administration handles overpayments

WASHINGTON — 11 Investigates is getting action. Following months of our reporting on the millions of people hit with overpayment notices by the Social Security Administration, which the government is trying to force them to pay back, changes are going into effect Monday.

Debbie Lennox didn’t get her Social Security disability check for six months including over the holidays. The agency told her she was overpaid years before and she needed to pay back what was owed - thousands of dollars.

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“I’ve worked for this for years,” Lennox tells 11 Investigates. “I’ve worked since I was 16. I didn’t ask to get sick.”

Lennox said paying bills became difficult and the stress has taken a physical and emotional toll on her and her husband.

“Many days and hours of tears and worrying,” Lennox added. “It’s frustrating. They need to be held accountable. It all comes back to accountability.”

Now, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is shutting down what he calls a cruel practice of withholding entire checks in order to collect overpayment debt. Beginning Monday, March 25, the SSA can only withhold 10% of a beneficiary’s check to prevent more harm to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Lennox says it’s about time, but it’s just a start.

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“I’d say it’s a move in the right direction, but I’d still like to see them move quicker for individuals because it does affect your livelihood,” Lennox said.

More changes will go into effect in the coming months, including taking the burden of proof off of the beneficiary and putting it on the Social Security Administration. Beneficiaries will now have five years to pay back the money, which is up from three years previously. If a beneficiary doesn’t believe they’re at fault, it will be easier to file a waiver.

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These new rules don’t automatically go into effect for people already dealing with overpayments. You’ll have to call your local Social Security office to renegotiate terms.

SSA Commissioner Martin O’Malley is now looking into the statute of limitations for how long the agency has to notify a beneficiary of an overpayment and collect any debt.

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