Investigates

Channel 11 Investigation into social security overpayments getting results in nation’s capital

PITTSBURGH — A Channel 11 News Investigation is getting results in the nation’s capital.

Just weeks after we exposed billions of dollars in overpayments to people on social security and demands to pay the money back, the agency’s acting commissioner is ordering a review of all overpayment procedures and policies. The acting commissioner defended the agency’s performance saying payment accuracy is high, but she has now assigned a team to review the policies and procedures surrounding overpayments in the wake of our reporting.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE >> Local families told they owe thousands they don’t have after Social Security overpayments

We partnered with our sister stations in eight cities across seven states, and KFF Health News, to show the impact the demands for repayment were having on the recipients, many of whom were poor, elderly or disabled. The overpayments were often in the thousands of tens of thousands of dollars and were sometimes the result of the government’s own mistakes.

“I was floored,” Kate from Munhall tells 11 Investigates. “When you get a letter saying you owe thousands of dollars, it’s almost numbing.”

“I started having heart palpitations,” Lori Cochran added. “I said, $27,000? They’re going to expect me to pay that back?

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Now, the acting commissioner of Social Security tells 11 investigates, “Despite our high accuracy rates, I am putting together a team to review our overpayment policies and procedures to further improve how we serve our customers. I have designated a senior official to work out of the office of the commissioner to lead the team and report directly to me.”

In many cases, like the two women above, their asset limit unknowingly exceeded $2,000 dollars, making them ineligible to receive a check from Social Security at all. Over the course of several months, overpayments are ballooning to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Now, some members of Congress are fighting to raise that “asset limit” to $10 thousand for individuals or $20 thousand for married couples.

The people we’ve talked to, who are affected by overpayments, say they’re grateful 11 Investigates is looking into why this is happening.

“Nothing would have been done,” Kate said. “Nothing would have been done had you not brought this to light.”

The Social Security Administration has refused to tell 11 Investigates how many people are affected by these overpayment letters.

The SSA has not offered any specifics on what the review will entail or a timeline for when it would be completed.

SSA has declined our prior requests for an interview with the acting commissioner and has not responded to a new request to discuss her ordering of this review.

In a news release announcing the review, the agency said when overpayments do happen, the agency is required by law to adjust benefits or recover debts.  The law allows Social Security to waive recovery in some cases, which must be balanced with the agency’s stewardship responsibility to safeguard the integrity of benefit programs and the trust funds.

If you’ve been affected by a Social Security overpayment, please email: ahudak@wpxi.com.

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